LUSAIL, Qatar — There were still around 50,000 Argentinian fans in the stands at the iconic Lusail Stadium long after Lionel Messi and the purple booked their place in the World Cup final with Tuesday’s emphatic 3-0 win over Croatia.
Messi looked the most delighted of all.
“I’m really enjoying it,” the 35-year-old said afterwards. “I can say that I feel very happy throughout this World Cup. I’m enjoying it a lot and, luckily, I can help my team and make things happen.”
That’s one way of saying it.
Messi scored the all-important first goal from the penalty spot – which Croatia coach Zlatko Dalić said “took the game in a different direction” – after Julián Álvarez was fouled by rival goalkeeper Dominik Livaković.
Messi was involved in the build-up before the second goal, which Alvarez scored after a run from his own half and a couple of lucky bounces in the box.
And Messi, as he has done so many times throughout his otherworldly career, saved the best for last by setting up a second for Alvarez after setting up Joško Gvardiol’s goal at right-back with a series of twists and turns and somehow hold the goal. much bigger Croatian central defense with enough time to cut the ball expertly for the finish.
“Julián Álvarez’s game was excellent,” said Scaloni. “Not only because he scored both goals, but also because he was very useful [defensively] with the midfielders”.
Lionel Messi powered Argentina to the World Cup final for the second time in his career.
Admittedly, it was a total team performance.
Unlike their shootout win over the Netherlands in the last 16, which Argentina were winning 2-0 before the Dutch pulled two goals back late on, Scaloni’s side were in complete control a once he advanced and never gave the Crusaders a chance to recover.
“This is a very smart and wise team,” Messi said. “We know how to read the game at every moment. We know how to suffer when we need to, have the ball when we need to, press, make recovery runs. And we have an excellent coaching staff. They know what they are doing. We are doing it… This is a big help for us when we’re on the pitch, because we’re not lost.”
Still, as always, Messi was the man of the match, the star of the show. And with five goals in six outings here, he is now tied with France’s Kylian Mbappe at the top of the Golden Boot race at Qatar 2022. But the only hardware Messi cares about is on Sunday, when Argentina he will meet Mbappé and the defenders of the field or. Cinderella Morocco Those two teams play in the other semifinal on Wednesday (2 p.m. ET, FOX and the FOX Sports app).
A win this weekend will end once and for all any doubts about Messi’s status as the greatest player in history. However, most, including his manager, believe that the title already belongs to him.
“I have no doubt about it,” said Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni when asked if Messi’s performance in this World Cup confirms him as the GOAT.
“If Messi is the best player of all time, sometimes it could seem like Argentines, of course, we say that because we are Argentines. And maybe we are biased,” he said. “It’s something you say as an Argentine, but I have no doubt about it. I’ve been saying it for a long time.
“I am honored to be able to train him, to see him play,” continued Scaloni. “It’s an exciting thing because every time you see him play, he’s a great source of motivation for his teammates, for the people of Argentina and for the whole world. So there’s nothing left to say about Messi. He’s a privilege to have it. him on this team.”
Lionel Messi and Argentina celebrate
Lionel Messi and Argentina celebrate after defeating Croatia 3-0 in the semi-finals.
Now it’s time to take the final step. Argentina surprisingly lost their first group stage in Qatar to Saudi Arabia, raising concerns about their ability to compete for the title while raising the stakes for each subsequent competition.
“The first game was a hard blow for all of us because we had been unbeaten in 26 games,” Messi said. “To start like that in a World Cup was very unlucky. We didn’t think we were going to lose against Saudi Arabia. It was a sour test for this whole squad.
“But again, this team showed how strong we are,” added Messi. “Every game was a final for us. We were aware that if we didn’t win, things would be more complicated for us. We played five finals, and luckily we were able to win all five. And I hope that will be the same for the final game” .
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Doug McIntyre is a football writer for FOX Sports. Before joining FOX Sports in 2021, he was a writer for ESPN and Yahoo Sports and has covered the US men’s and women’s national teams at multiple FIFA World Cups. Follow him on Twitter @By Doug McIntyre.
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