Lionel Messi’s lifelong dream of leading Argentina to win the World Cup will remain alive until the last day of Qatar 2022, as The Albiceleste They outlasted an exhausted Croatia in a 3-0 semi-final victory on Tuesday.
Two goals in the first half, the first from a penalty kick by Messi and the second a solo effort from Julián Alvarez, put Argentina in an advantageous position in the first half, a position from which Croatia would never recover.
Alvarez secured victory with Argentina’s third goal of the second half after a fine pass from Messi, giving the South American side and their 35-year-old captain a chance to banish the demons of the final defeat of 2014, as well as secure the country. First World Cup title since 1986.
Messi spent parts of the match feeling his left hamstring, although you would never guess he would have been feeling any discomfort due to the sinewy, squiggly way Joshko Guardiol, one of the best defenders in this tournament, set up Argentina’s third goal.
Messi’s near-super powers undoubtedly diminish as he plays in the twilight of his career, but the young wizard still has the ability to deliver moments of genius when his country needs him most.
His goal against Mexico in the group stage, an assist against the Netherlands in the quarter-finals and his overall performance in the semi-finals on Tuesday provided more memorable moments for a nation of 45 million people that considers him not far from a god.
It is estimated that up to 40,000 Argentine fans traveled to Qatar for the World Cup, according to the Argentine Embassy in Qatar, and they all appeared to be inside Lusail Stadium on Tuesday night.
As the clock ticked towards injury time and the victory was indisputable, the Argentina bench and coaching staff began to join in the rhythmic songs and cheers that were blaring from the stands.
After the final whistle, the Argentine players stood in front of a huge wall of blue and white shirts and commanded the admiration of their adoring fans.
It is almost impossible to believe that this is the same team that lost 2-1 to Saudi Arabia just three weeks ago in their opening group stage match – a performance so absurd and uninspired that it left some wondering if Argentina would succeed. out of group.
Now, against France or Morocco, Messi will have one last chance to lift the trophy he craves most.
When asked if Sunday’s game would be his last in a World Cup, Messi replied: “Yes. Absolutely yes. There are so many years until the next one that I don’t think I have it in me, and to finish like that is the best.”
“[I feel] So much happiness to be able to achieve this. To end my World Cup career by playing my last game in the final. Everything I experienced in this World Cup, what people suffered and how much people in Argentina enjoyed it is very emotional.
“I enjoy everything a lot, I feel strong to be able to take on every game. We made a lot of big sacrifices, like playing extra time which wasn’t easy. We were tired but the group gave a little more than that, it was a very tough game that went the way for which we have prepared.
“We knew they were going to have the ball a lot and that we were going to have our chances. It was a well prepared game like we always succeed in, and I’m happy, I’m enjoying it a lot.”
In Messi and Luka Modric’s Croatia, both captains have led their countries in losing World Cup finals and this will be the last chance for both of them to claim the best award in football.
Neither team appeared among the favorites for the tournament before Qatar 2022, but Croatia stunned the world four years ago by reaching the final and did so again in the previous round in Qatar, eliminating pre-tournament favorites Brazil on penalties in a strong display. and design.
Modric, a star of Croatia and a living legend in the tiny Balkan nation, has the strength to fight in the biggest matches and, along with Mateo Kovacic and Marcelo Brozovic, has been part of Qatar’s finest midfield.
Likewise, Argentina also improved as the tournament went on – although they could hardly have gotten any worse after that stunning defeat to Saudi Arabia.
The team, which now seems to believe the script is written for Messi’s last dance to end in glory on Sunday, is almost unrecognizable from the team that took to the pitch that day.
Although Croatia started the game marginally better than the two teams, these players played as many minutes as they could so far in Qatar, as they beat Japan and Brazil on penalties after two periods of extra time drained of their energy.
Their tired legs seemed to show up early on at Lusail Stadium and even one mistake at this level is likely to prove costly.
That proved to be the case for Croatia, where Modric surprisingly of all gave the ball wide in midfield and Guardiol failed to track down Alvarez, leaving Dominic Levakovic – the Croatian’s twice Qatar penalty shootout – exposed one-on-one against the Manchester City forward. .
Álvarez put the ball around Levakovic, whose outstretched leg knocked the striker out and Messi made no mistake in converting the resulting penalty kick, volleying it high into the top corner.
It was Messi’s 11th World Cup goal, taking him past Gabriel Batistuta as Argentina’s all-time leading scorer in World Cup finals.
The game soon looked to be pulling away from Croatia as Alvarez made it 2-0 after just five minutes.
Borna Sosa’s weak pass into the penalty area triggered a counter-attack from Argentina, with Álvarez running three-quarters of the length of the pitch and, after two bouncing rebounds in the penalty area, smashing the ball past Levaković.
Only a stunning reaction save from Levakovic prevented the result from becoming worse for Croatia before half-time, but it would take something extra special, even for a team so used to conjuring up footballing prodigies, to come back from them.
However, Croatia displayed little forward lead in the second half, a mixture of exhausting attacking play and solid Argentine defence, and the suspension lasted until the 70th minute.
Messi caught the ball deep and Gvardiol ran slashing, before finding Alvarez inside the penalty area to send the Argentine fans inside Lusail Stadium into ecstasy.
Argentina, written off by many as inferior to the other World Cup contenders, should never have qualified for the final in Qatar, but a determined and single-minded Messi helped ensure it did.
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