Argentina converted all four of its penalty kicks in a shootout against the Netherlands on Wednesday in São Paulo to advance to the World Cup for the first time since 1990.
Argentina has won all six of its games in this tournament by a combined score of 8-3 and knows it could be 90 minutes away from hoisting the World Cup championship trophy for the first time in 28 years.
A day after Germany lit up the World Cup with its clinical 7-1 destruction of host Brazil, the Netherlands and Argentina could not manage a goal between them in 120 minutes before the shootout. Lionel Messi, Ezequiel Garay, Sergio Aguero and Maxi Rodriguez all converted their spot kicks.
“I don’t know what we’ve crossed now, but we’ve made it to the end,” Argentina Coach Alejandro Sabella said. “It’s a line of no return.”
Sunday’s final will be a rematch of the 1986 and 1990 finals. Argentina beat West Germany in the first, in Mexico, with Diego Maradona leading the way, but it dropped the second meeting in Italy four years later.
At 27, Messi will have a chance in his third World Cup to take home his sport’s ultimate prize. And perhaps he will finally draw a full embrace from Argentine fans and an equal comparison to the great Maradona, who won a World Cup in 1986.
The Netherlands led this World Cup with 12 goals, but its patient, counterattacking style produced nothing in the quarterfinals and semifinals after a late, desperate victory against Mexico in the Round of 16. They’ll face host Brazil on Saturday in the third-place game.
Brazilians are also likely to be ill-disposed by the finals, as they are forced to watch their fiercest rivals play for the world title in their most hallowed stadium against a team that humiliated their nation in the semifinals.