Lionel Scaloni hailed his Argentina side’s “beautiful” penalty shootout victory over the Netherlands but admitted his side had been dragged into an “ugly game” by a Dutch team that surprised him with their aggressiveness.
The coach’s comments came after an enthralling but extraordinarily bad-tempered game which featured one red card and 16 yellows – two of which came during a penalty shootout in which the Dutch player Denzel Dumfries was sent off for taunting opponents. After Argentina had triumphed 4-3 on penalties, following a 2-2 draw, their players then goaded the Dutch while Lionel Messi also exchanged words with Louis van Gaal and his assistant Edgar Davids.
“The game was heated,” admitted Scaloni. “But this was a quarter-final. And what happens on the pitch stays on the pitch. Of course we had 11 men. Leo [Messi] was a very important player and he showed that he is the best of all times and we are happy that he is on our side.”
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Argentina’s Leandro Paredes was also lucky to receive just a yellow card for not only a bad foul on Nathan Aké but for then smashing the ball at the Dutch bench, which sparked a fractious shoving match between both sides.
But Scaloni suggested it was the Netherlands that had been the instigators. Asked whether they had played in a way that was anti-football, he replied: “They played in a way I didn’t expect from them. But each team, each coach, decides how to play. I won’t speak about their football philosophy but in truth in the second half it was an ugly game.
“We had no chances and it was frequently interrupted but they are allowed to play how they wish.”
Messi was the player of the match, creating the first, scoring Argentina’s second from the spot and then – for good measure – giving them the lead in the penalty shootout. But he admitted that his team had suffered after squandering a 2-0 lead with the Dutch striker Wout Weghorst scoring twice in the final seven minutes to force extra time.
“We suffered too much,” he said. “It was a very tough game. We lived it on the pitch for the people. And Diego Maradona is seeing us from heaven, he is pushing us to the very end.”
However Messi, who was also booked for arguing with the Spanish referee, Antonio Mateu Lahoz, was critical of how the game was officiated. “I felt a lot of anger,” he said. “I don’t want to talk about the referee because later they sanction you, you can’t say what you think because they sanction you. Fifa has to review that.”
Argentina are now the favourites to lift their third World Cup but Messi is refusing to get carried away.
“Croatia is a very difficult opponent,” he added. “They have great players, they know themselves very well. They have the same coach since the last World Cup and it’s a World Cup semi-final, it’s going to be tough.”