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Messi, Neymar penalty drama at World Cup: Argentina prove why best goes first after Brazil star didn’t step up

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The first two quarterfinals of the 2022 FIFA World Cup literally went down to the final kick. 

Both Croatia and Argentina managed to triumph in penalty shootouts, against Brazil and the Netherlands respectively. 

The differing approaches of the two South American heavyweights to their decisive spot-kicks highlighted a common conundrum for teams when the stakes couldn’t be higher. Should the best penalty taker go first, or do you save them for the fifth and potentially final spot-kick?

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Well on the evidence of these two quarterfinals, the answer clearly seems to be that your best should go first.  

Brazil surprisingly opted to start their shootout against Croatia with Real Madrid youngster Rodrygo, who had his poor attempt saved. 

Superstar Neymar, who generally takes penalties for the team during matches, was slated to go fifth, but Croatia’s perfect record and Marquinhos’ miss meant the shootout was over before he got the chance to step up. 

Brazil coach Tite was obviously hoping the shootout would go very differently, and Neymar could have slotted home the winning penalty to be the hero. Instead, Tite was left to rue not using his best available taker. 

“He is the fifth and decisive penalty taker,” Tite said of Neymar not taking a penalty in his post-match media conference. “The player who has more quality and the mentality to step up then is under greatest pressure.”

While impossible to say for sure, the decision no doubt proved costly, as Croatia claimed a famous victory and ended Brazil’s dreams of a record-extending sixth World Cup title. 

Just a few hours later, Netherlands came from two goals down to force Argentina to penalties in their World Cup quarterfinal.

After Virgil van Dijk had failed to convert the first spot-kick for the Dutch, Lionel Messi then stepped forward first for the South Americans, as they looked to claim the early advantage. 

Having already scored a penalty during the match, Messi made no mistake with his shootout effort when he calmly rolled the ball into the back of the net. 

Argentina’s decision to use their best taker first paid off, with Steven Berghuis then having his effort saved as Lionel Scaloni’s side took a 2-0 lead in the shootout. 

While Enzo Fernandez missed his effort for Argentina, Lautaro Martinez slotted home the decisive spot-kick for Argentina as the fifth and ultimately final taker. 

Though some will say such a moment should be reserved for a team’s best player, when it comes to a penalty shootout, there is no room for sentimentality or thinking too far ahead — as Brazil and Neymar learned the hard way in Qatar. 

Credit: sportingnews.com

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