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World Cup Diary Day 18: Croatia, Argentina advance in penalty kicks

Messi-ah!

Messi-ah!
Image: Getty Images

As extra time started, neither Brazil or Croatia showed any urgency. The weight of a FIFA World Cup quarterfinal entering the additional 30 minutes-plus after going scoreless in the contest’s original time could’ve been swapped for the rhythm of a Tuesday exhibition. World Cups are how every country judges its soccer/football/futbol for the next four years. The reasons why both teams were calm when every other factor said otherwise were obvious, yet it was the underdogs Croatia moving on in penalty kicks.

Brazil had the tournament’s best squad. The five-time World Cup winners had the contest’s best player in Neymar. When games are as close as Friday’s first quarterfinal, the best player on the pitch usually makes the difference, and Neymar’s goal near the end of the first extra-time period only solidified his standing. That’s until Croatia decided they wanted to advance to its second straight World Cup semifinal.

Croatia might be the most comfortable team ever in extra time of a World Cup. That was the country’s fifth straight knockout-stage win to come in extra time. At the 2018 World Cup, two penalty-kick wins and an extra-time winner over England in the semifinals launched Croatia to a runner-up performance to France. This year, Japan and Brazil have exited the tournament with losses in penalties to the Croatians.

Brazil dominated the first 90 minutes. Croatia didn’t have a shot on goal until it tied the game. No problem, right where the Croatians wanted the game. As the game headed toward penalties, it was obvious Croatia was better prepared. Many Croats from four years ago returned to play in Qatar. This generation doesn’t know what it’s like to win in the knockout stage of the World Cup without an extra half hour. There’s no doubt skill involved in taking penalties, much it’s a coin flip as much as any deciding act in sports.

I always hated the strategy of teams waiting to have their best player wait to take a penalty. When Portugal has Christiano Ronaldo go last of the five, it’s infuriating. So when Neymar stepped up to take the opening penalty for Brazil, it was the right move. You assume he’s going to convert the PK, but I digress. Such bad juju for Brazil. The wait for a sixth World Cup will be at least 24 years. Last time the tournament was in North America, like the 2026 edition will be, Brazil won over Italy in penalty kicks.

This might be Messi’s destiny – Argentina outlasts The Netherlands

Argentina always had it. Never in doubt. It nearly blew 2-0 leads, in the overall score and in penalty kicks. The latest regulation goal in World Cup history, in the 101st minute sent the game to extra time, but Lionel Messi’s dream of winning the biggest event in soccer is two wins away.

It’s the first day of two penalty shootouts in the World Cup quarterfinals since 1986. France beat Brazil and West Germany took down host Mexico that day. he Argentina will face Croatia on Tuesday to claim the first spot in the finals.

Argentina dominated the first 90 minutes for the most part to where goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez’s first save of the game was in the penalty shootout. Both Dutch shots on goal in the game hit the back of the net. The absolute balls on Louis Van Gaal to bypass a Cody Gakpo shot on goal to try a ground pass off a free kick. And that’s how Wout Weghorst scored his second goal of the match.

With tomorrow’s games being France against England and Portugal facing Morocco, it’s hard not to look to the other side of the bracket and imagine how this all plays out. Two wins for Portugal and a Messi versus Ronaldo World Cup final would be the most substantial game in the history of the sport. We never got Kobe versus LeBron in an NBA final. Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin never faced in the NHL playoffs beyond the second round. Maybe Larry Bird and Magic Johnson is the last time legends of this magnitude faced off in a championship. Individual sports don’t count like Pete Sampras against Andre Agassi. Or Muhammad Ali fighting Joe Frazier. But Messi and Ronaldo’s showdown is still possible.

Messi successfully converted his penalties in regular time and in the shootout, and now is guaranteed two more World Cup games, as the event has a third-place game on Saturday. Many predicted the mega South American showdown to happen at this stage. Instead, we get Croatia, a country with as many people as the state of Oklahoma, just more than 4 million. If Friday is any indication of what is to come, hold onto your seats for Tuesday.

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