Lionel Messi was on Friday the man of the match when he helped guide his country to the last four of the World Cup at the expense of the Netherlands.
Messi assisted Argentina's first goal for Nahuel Molina and then scored a second from the penalty spot as Argentina took a commanding 2-0 lead in the 73rd minute.
But two late goals from Dutch substitute Wout Weghorst, the second off the back of a free kick in the 11th minute of stoppage time, sent the match to extra time and eventually a penalty shootout between the two teams- where Argentina beat the Dutch 4-3.
During the match, some spectators noticed the 35-year-old cupping his ears while facing the Netherlands bench.
But many may not know the reason for celebrating like this.
Well, the gesture mimicked a goal celebration sometimes used by former Argentina playmaker Juan Roman Riquelme, who reportedly had disagreements with Van Gaal when they were both at Barcelona in the early 2000s and had to leave the Catalan club to make a name for himself in Spanish soccer.
In 2003, Riquelme left the Argentinian club Boca Juniors and moved to the Spanish club Barcelona.
Riquelme was one of Argentina's best midfielders at the time.
But despite performing well under Van Gaal at Barcelona, the dutch played him out of position before stopping playing him at all.
He would spend two of his three years contracted to Barcelona at Villarreal.
Forced to return to Boca Juniors club in 2008 then took a career break.
The most talented midfielder of that time could not come back.
To remind Louis van Gaal of Riquelme, Messi stood right in front of the dutch and cupped his ears, emulating the celebration of the Argentine icon.
21 years on from the famous Topo Gigio celebration from Juan Román Riquelme pic.twitter.com/W6AuUpDmoL — Boca in English | Podcast ? (@CABJ_English) April 8, 2022
Speaking after the match, Sport caught Messi’s statements on van Gaal, where the Argentina captain continued to feud.
“Van Gaal sells those that play football well and he began to put tall people on and launch the ball at them.”
At the end of the game, Messi could be seen gesticulating at the 71-year-old Van Gaal and also went face to face with Edgar Davids, a member of the Dutch technical staff.
Messi was one of 17 people — players or coaching staff — to be given a yellow card, which is a record for a World Cup game. He received his booking in the final seconds of regulation time for dissent, though it could have come much earlier when he patted the ball away deliberately with his hand.
Finishing the game with a bloodied and slightly puffy top lip after running into Netherlands defender Jurrien Timber, Messi took aim at Spanish referee Antonio Mateu, saying he was not “up to the standard” and was “very harmful for us,” and also broke off from his post-match interview on the field to shout abuse at Wout Weghorst, the scorer of the Netherlands’ two goals.
“It was a very hard match, I have to say,” Messi said through an interpreter. “From the very beginning, we know it would be this way as we had a big national team in front of us.
“We suffered a lot and we didn’t deserve that. We played the way we had to play.”
It was mayhem at times, notably when the Netherlands bench emptied onto the field after Leandro Paredes smashed the ball toward the dugout from close range. Netherlands defender Virgil van Dijk sprinted up to Paredes and barged him to the ground as a melee unfolded.
Mateu struggled to maintain control of the game. After blowing the fulltime whistle to take the game to extra time, he was immediately confronted by Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni, who got in Mateu’s face and had to be held back by colleagues.