How Argentina vs Netherlands descended into chaos – taunts, tantrums and tears

There was a game of football amid the mayhem of a World Cup quarter-final between Argentina and the Netherlands that had it all. If feisty is your thing, then this was the match for you.

Seventeen yellow cards, two of them to coaches, a red card after the final whistle, an all-in melee, and somehow Argentina’s hero Emiliano Martinez avoided a caution of any kind. If he does get punished for his post-match comments about referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz remains to be seen.

The actual football will be remembered for an assist for the ages from Lionel Messi and a brilliant Dutch comeback that was inspired by Wout Weghorst, the 6ft 6in (197cm) striker who flopped in the Premier League at relegation-bound Burnley last season.

But you’ve not got this far to read about that…

The first flare-ups

A sign of things to come came two minutes before half-time when Lahoz booked four players, including Weghorst, at the time a substitute yet to enter the action, and Argentina assistant coach Walter Samuel, no stranger to a yellow in his days as a no-nonsense defender. Marcos Acuna’s booking for fouling Jurrien Timber will cost him a place in Tuesday’s semi-final against Croatia.

But that was only a precursor to things to come. Ten minutes into the second half, Messi was penalized for the most deliberate of handballs but somehow avoided a caution, something Netherlands captain Virgil van Dijk was quick to query with Lahoz.

(Photo: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

Dutch goalkeeper Andries Noppert showed he wasn’t afraid to indulge in the trash talk as Messi prepared to take his second-half penalty.

Messi ignored that and doubled the lead but that only ramped up the tensions — as team-mate Martinez, no stranger to gamesmanship, went on the offensive.

The Argentina goalkeeper claimed a cross under pressure from Luuk de Jong before he stood over the striker and baited him. Those histrionics would come back to bite him before the end of normal time.

Tensions spill over

But it was the 89th minute when the simmering tensions really came to a boil.

Leandro Paredes was rightly booked for clattering Nathan Ake…

…but he wasn’t done. He sprung to his feet and hammered the ball into the Dutch dugout from close range. The defender hits the ball so hard that both of his feet were off the ground — fortunately for the Netherlands’ coaches and substitutes, his time-wasting clearance strikes an empty seat, rather than an opponent.

(Photo: Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

Dutch bench personnel emptied onto the pitch in reaction and a melee broke out, with Paredes lucky not to receive a second yellow and Van Dijk a similar fate after body-checking him to the ground in the aftermath. Steven Bergwijn, who had already been substituted, was booked for his part in the incident.

The fouls kept coming and Argentina were punished in the 11th minute of added time as Weghorst leveled from Teun Koopmeiners’ clever free kick.

Messi was booked for dissent, which should have meant a red card if he had not avoided punishment for that handball earlier, and the Argentina bench staff and players could not contain their anger at the final whistle. Angel Di Maria had to be held back from remonstrating with Lahoz while his manager Lionel Scaloni confronted the Spanish referee face to face.

(Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

(Photo: Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

Penalty shootout chaos

A semblance of calm descended during the 30 minutes of extra time before the penalty shootout became a free for all — with Martinez again front and center with his antics.

He saved the first two Netherlands penalties, but they were a sideshow compared to his mind games.

Having kept out Van Dijk’s opening spot kick to give Argentina an instant advantage, he walked towards the second Dutch taker, Steven Berghuis, before lobbing the ball off to the side to delay the Ajax midfielder.

Martinez kicking the ball away

He is told off by Lahoz, but not booked.

martinez getting told off

The goalkeeper then came out on top again by saving Berghuis’ shot to leave the Netherlands up against it.

Spurred on by that and his side’s two successes from 12 yards, Martinez then tries to get in the head of Koopmeiners, who took the third Dutch penalty.

The 24-year-old ignores him and finally gets Louis van Gaal’s team on the board in the shootout but Martinez continues to push his luck when fourth taker Weghorst steps up with some delaying tactics by his left post.

Martinez told off again

Again Mahoz speaks to him, but again there is no card for the Aston Villa man.

Clearly rattled, Denzel Dumfries attempts to get back at Argentina with some mind games of his own but is approached by Di Maria.

final penalty

Yet despite all of Martinez’s mayhem, Lahoz now books Dumfries.

This all proves to be the warm-up act for what follows Lautaro Martinez converting the winning penalty as the victors get in the faces of the Dutch and goad them.

(Photo: Stefan Matzke – sampics/Corbis via Getty Images)

And it is all too much for Dumfries, who is shown a second yellow in the ensuing chaos.

Even Messi could not help but become embroiled in it. Apparently irked by the Netherlands coaching staff, the Argentina captain has a clear disagreement with head coach Van Gaal and assistant Edgar Davids.

Messi and Davids clash

For those watching from home, it was easy to miss that, after scoring his second-half penalty, Messi celebrated with his teammates before walking on his own to the dugouts’ side of the pitch.

There, and in full view of the Netherlands coaching staff, he did this:

Messi's second-half celebration (Photo: Getty Images)

Messi’s second-half celebration (Photo: Getty Images)

Which doesn’t seem so inflammatory until you see it from the opposite angle…

The pose — with both hands held around his ears — bears a remarkable similarity to former Argentina forward Juan Roman Riquelme’s trademark goal celebration, a fact not lost on Argentine fans who quickly began speculating as to the reason why Messi had adopted it.

Riquelme celebrating a goal in 2002 (Photo: Getty Images)

Riquelme celebrating a goal for Barcelona in 2002 (Photo: Getty Images)

Messi did not elaborate on the reasons why after the match. But Riquelme’s short-lived Barcelona spell was effectively ended by Van Gaal in his 2002-03 debut season, starting him only six times in La Liga before he was sent to Villarreal on a two-year loan the following summer following the signing of Brazil international Ronaldinho. Messi was a Barcelona youngster by then and will have seen how his countryman was treated.

After Lautaro’s match-winning penalty, as Argentina players continued their celebrations and Dutch players began to peel themselves off the turf they had fallen to in dismay, Messi calmly walked in the direction of the Netherlands coaching staff.

Television cameras caught Messi making a beeline for Davids, while pointing towards the tunnel and moving his thumb and fingers together in a ‘talking’ motion.

Messi confronted the Netherlands bench after the game (Photo: Getty Images)

Davids — another who was a Barcelona player in Messi’s youth-team days — then placed a hand on the Argentina captain’s back, as the three engaged in an apparently heated conversation. Di Maria then led his skipper away, towards the tunnel.

Messi later told Mexican television network DeporTV: “I was angry because a coach like Van Gaal is, with the experience he has… That he talks the way he spoke, that he lacks respect.

“It didn’t have to be like that, it didn’t make sense. I feel like he had disrespected the Argentine national team.”

Messi and Martinez take aim at FIFA

Not content with picking a fight with the Netherlands, Messi and Martinez next turned their attention to referee Lahoz.

Messi was up first, interviewed on the pitch by FIFA.

“It’s very frustrating, very frustrating. (The match) didn’t have to end that way,” he said.

“I don’t want to talk about the referee, because you (himself) will be punished. You cannot be honest. You can’t say what you’re thinking. If you do, they’ll sanction you for a match.”

Messi then proceeded to… say exactly what he thought about the referee anyway:

“We were scared before the game because we knew what this was. I think FIFA must think about it, they cannot put a referee like that for these important games, for such a pivotal game — a referee who isn’t up to the task.”

Martinez went even further when he was interviewed by beIN Sports a few moments later. “The referee was giving everything to them. He gave 10 minutes (of second-half stoppage time) for no reason,” he said.

“He gave a free kick outside the box to them two or three times. He just wanted them to score, that’s basically it. So hopefully we don’t have that referee anymore, because he’s useless.”

FIFA’s disciplinary code forbids players from calling the integrity of match officials into question.

The Athletic has contacted FIFA for comment.

Messi’s media round continues

The next incident came when Messi was shepherded over to Argentine sports channel TyC Sports. The interview began but Messi cut short one question by becoming involved in another altercation.

“What are you looking at, fool?” he says to somebody behind the camera. “Go on that way, fool. Go away.”

It’s unclear exactly who Messi was talking to. But given the numerous on and off-pitch incidents before, during and after the game, there is no shortage of contenders.

(Photo: Elsa/Getty Images)


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