SAO PAULO, Brazil—Lionel Messi finally got what he wanted: the best player in the world is going to play in his sport’s biggest game.
And this time he owes that more to his teammates than his own individual brilliance after Argentina won a penalty-kick shootout with the Netherlands to advance to Sunday’s World Cup final against Germany in Rio de Janeiro.
The Dutch, who won their quarterfinal game with Costa Rica on penalty kicks, meets Brazil on Saturday in Brasilia in the third-place game.
After playing 120 minutes to a scoreless draw, the Argentines came alive in the shootout, winning 4-2 with Messi getting things started. Ezequiel Garay, Sergio Aguero and Maxi Rodriguez followed, all making their shots against Dutch keeper Jasper Cillessen.
Cillessen was replaced by backup keeper Tom Kurl just ahead of the penalty kicks in the Netherlands’ victory over Costa Rica. But he was forced to stay in the game this time when the Dutch used their three substitutions for field players.
Argentina’s unsung keeper, Sergio Romero, also came up huge with saves on shots by Ron Vlaar on the first penalty kick and Wesley Sneijder in the third round.
The Netherlands were seeking a return to the final, where it lost to Spain in extra time four years ago in South Africa. Meanwhile, nobody on Argentina’s team was out of grade school the last time its national team played for the World Cup title in 1990.
And Messi hadn’t even been born when Argentina and Maradona gave the country its last championship in 1986.
Neither team attacked as if they wanted to win, though. Both sides were tenative in the dead-even first half, probing for weaknesses like two heavyweights in the early rounds of a title fight. That’s the way both teams have played in the knockout round, though, with the Dutch scoring just once from the run-of-play in its last two games while Argentina hasn’t won any game in this tournament by more than one goal.
The Dutch may also have been a bit fatigued and lacking for confidence after taking 20 shots but failing to score in an overtime draw in Costa Rica its last time out. (The Netherlands advanvced that time on penalty kicks.)
Argentina was also hurt by the loss of injured midfielder Angel Di Maria, the spark that makes it offense go. That allowed the Dutch to collapse around Messi, making him a nonfactor for long stretches of the game.