Not for long. Louis van Gaal, the Dutch coach, has spent much of the last year or so locked in a philosophical battle with elements of his homeland’s news media. They would prefer him to play a more traditional Dutch style: fluid, adventurous, aesthetically pleasing. He is adamant that the modern game is about absorbing pressure, setting traps, seeking a sucker punch.
On Friday, he chose option C: throwing on two enormous strikers and firing balls at their heads until something happened.
With seven minutes to play, one of them, Wout Weghorst slipped his marker and diverted Steven Berghuis’s cross past goalkeeper Emiliano Martínez, halving the deficit. Argentina clenched its fists and tried to hold on.
It survived until almost 11 minutes of injury time had elapsed, the final few seconds of a distended period of added time, when it was caught out by the ingenuity — and courage — of the Dutch midfielder Teun Koopmeiners, who chose the last minute of a World Cup quarterfinal to produce the sort of imaginative brilliance that Messi would be proud to call his own.
Presented with a free kick only a few inches outside the Argentine penalty area, Koopmeiners, rather than shoot, slipped a low pass into Weghorst’s feet. The striker swiveled and shot in one fluid motion. Argentina’s players slumped to the floor, their certainty shredded, the score tied. They were going to have to do this the hard way.
The hardest, in fact. Extra time came and went, the mood of the game descending from fractious into downright furious. Leandro Paredes sparked a mass confrontation with the Dutch substitutes and was fortunate not to be sent off. The players scrapped and clawed at each other. What chances there were fell to Argentina. Enzo Fernández shot wide. Lautaro Martínez hit the post. Fortune did not seem to be smiling on them. Penalties loomed.
Once again, it all seemed to be going so well. Emiliano Martínez, Argentina’s goalkeeper, is a specialist on these sorts of occasions. He saved the first two Dutch efforts. In the stands, the fans roared, their fear converted into a vaguely primal sound. But that would have been the easy way, and Argentina does not take the easy way.