For 100 minutes, Friday’s World Cup quarter-final between the Netherlands and Argentina seemed to be remembered for a few more magical Lionel Messi moments.
Then it appeared that Wout Weghorst stole the thunder when he scored a spectacular equalizer from a brilliantly clever free-kick deep in injury time.
However, once the dust settles on Argentina’s penalty shoot-out victory – 4-3, after a 2-2 draw – one number will remain indelibly linked to this game: 18.
This is the number of yellow cards given during the match – a record for a World Cup match.
Historians will say that other matches in World Cup history were dirtier. Think of “The Battle of Santiago” in 1962, in which Chile and Italy fought each other and which the BBC’s David Coleman described as “the most stupid, appalling, disgusting exhibition in football and shameful in the history of football”.
Think of Portugal’s round of 16 victory over the Netherlands in 2006, with 16 cards, including four sending offs.
Think of the 2010 World Cup final, in which Spain beat the Netherlands, and England referee Howard Webb showed 14 cards, including a red for Johnny Heitinga, and could have shown more .
There are other matches that could be cited as well. But none of those matches had as many flourishing cards as there were in Lusail on Friday.
The 18 yellows included eight for Dutch footballers, eight for Argentine players and one for Albiceste manager Lionel Scaloni and coach Walter Samuel.
Remarkably, the only man to collect two yellows and be sent off was Denzel Dumfries, and that was after Lautaro Martinez scored the game-winning kick in the shootout.
Dumfries had launched into the celebrating Argentinian players, who in turn challenged the Dutch players after the winning strike.
Messi’s lasting image of the game won’t be his sensational no-look pass to set Nahuel Molina up for the opener in Argentina. Rather, he was the one who interrupted an Argentinian TV interview after the game to tell someone off-screen: “What are you looking at, idiot?”
A total of 15 players on the pitch received a card – a new World Cup record.
Paredes triggers ugly scenes
This match continues the Dutch tradition of being involved in some of the fiercest games and dirtiest moments of the World Cup, from Frank Rijkaard’s clash with Rudi Voller in 1990 to the final kung fu kick. by Nigel De Jong in 2010.
Argentina, meanwhile, was hardly a passive victim of this game. It was not a repeat of the 1990s opener against Cameroon, in which Benjamin Massing was sent off for an incredible assault on Claudio Canaggia.
Leandro Paredes should have seen red as the protagonist of the flashpoint that turned this game from irritable to incandescent with rage. After fouling Nathan Ake in the 89th minute, he kicked the ball straight into the Dutch dugout.
He touched nothing but a padded seat, but saw an orange wave rushing across the field to push and push and point and curse.
The foul on Ake was itself worthy of a yellow card. The sequel should have seen Paredes in an early bath.
Several scrums marked the game, including full-time as Argentina responded in fury, their last place in the bottom four seemingly scrapped. Nicolas Otamendi was warned in the chaos.
In the end, the game remained 11-11, even as the atmosphere boiled over during extra time.
In conclusion, Dutch defender Jurien Timber had conceded the most fouls at this World Cup – 17 in total over five games.
Dumfries are second in the standings with 16, including five in this game alone. How he survived without being sent off until the post-match brawl can be attributed to one man – the referee.
Spanish manager Antonio Lahoz didn’t help matters, to be nice. For being mean, he was in absolute shock – brandishing his yellow card with abandon raised the tensions considerably, and by the time he finally showed red at Dumfries he had long since lost control.
Messi, for his part, was unimpressed. “I don’t want to talk about the referee because they punish you for your honesty,” he said afterwards.
“I think people saw what it was. Fifa cannot put such a referee who is not up to par for a game of this level.”
“Van Gaal must shut up! »
What’s remarkable is how mundane this game has been for so long. There were no shots on goal in the first 33 minutes.
The Netherlands hadn’t had a shot for more than 45 minutes before Weghorst’s first goal, which was their first shot on target.
But that goal sent Argentina into a panic, which may have played a role in Paredes’ misguided attack in the dugout.
It led to them giving a mindless free-kick to the edge of the box in the 10th minute of added time, from which Weghorst produced a moment of alien magic to anyone who watched him at Burnley last season.
This moment of magic resulted in overtime and penalties. Emiliano Martinez made two superb saves, and Argentina got to celebrate – and gloat, causing Dumfries to go down.
“There was a needle there,” Rio Ferdinand told BBC One after the match. “There were so many different things that played out in this game that made it a fantastic show.”
Martinez also brought the needle after the game, telling To be sporty“I hope we don’t have this referee anymore, he’s useless!
“Van Gaal said they have an advantage if there are penalties. He has to shut up.”
Was it the beautiful game? Apart from a few flashes, far from it. Was it dramatic, gripping and ruthlessly entertaining? Absolutely.