FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022: ‘Now is all’ for Messi and Argentina as final beckons

Argentina defeated Croatia 3-0 to advance to the World Cup final, giving Lionel Messi one last chance to complete his incredible legacy. That is the unusual slogan for Qatar 2022. It’s a phrase plastered all over Doha, on banners at every stadium, and hanging from the ceiling of the massive media hub at the Qatar National Convention Centre. Nobody seems to know who coined the phrase or what it means. Nobody, possibly, except Lionel Messi. Because, for Lionel Messi, playing in his final World Cup at the age of 35, now is truly all, and he is acting accordingly. Maybe those marketing gurus were onto something after all?

Argentina and Messi have advanced to the final. They defeated Croatia 3-0 at Lusail Stadium, ending the possibility of an all-South American semi-final by defeating Brazil on penalties. To say Argentina has been completely convincing in Qatar would be an exaggeration, but it put in by far its best performance of the tournament on Wednesday (AEDT). And, of course, Messi is always mentioned. Even when it isn’t all about him.

Messi and Argentina as the final beckons

FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 'Now is all' for Messi and Argentina as final beckons-1Also Read: Croatia, Morocco target third-place medal at World Cup

Even when Julian Alvarez trudged through on goal for Argentina’s second, Croatia’s defense crumbling one by one in comical fashion before the Manchester City striker finally prodded home, it was Messi who had supplied a deft touch to start the scoring in the 34th minute.

The fact that Argentina came into the tournament with a 36-match unbeaten streak and as Copa America champion, only to lose to Saudi Arabia in its Group C opener, is that everything is served to Messi. Not in the way that Portugal has had to service Cristiano Ronaldo’s thirst for goals for many years, but in the way, Lionel Scaloni’s squad knows their only real route to success is through that magician in the number 10 shirt.

They didn’t have it all their own way. Argentina had to work hard for each of their previous victories in this tournament, and as Scaloni stated in his pre-match press conference, all of their matches since losing to Saudi Arabia have been must-wins. Croatia, which defeated Argentina 3-0 in Russia 2018, dominated the first half, albeit without posing much of a threat. Indeed, Dejan Lovren’s misplaced header was the only effort from either side in the first 20 minutes.

Messi’s warm-up had primarily consisted of dead-ball practice and a few jogs, and he had only five touches in the first ten minutes, four of which were passes (he completed all of them, of course). When Messi felt and then stretched out his left thigh, Scaloni’s bench must have been concerned. Any apprehension grew when he was snagged on the ball and Mateo Kovacic led a counter-attack that resulted in a Croatia free-kick.

Messi shines as Argentina in final

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Also Read: Croatia stun five-time world champions Brazil in the dramatic penalty shootout win (4-2 on pens)

Argentina, on the other hand, had Messi where they wanted him seven minutes later. On the penalty spot, standing over the ball. Croatia’s defense had been destroyed by a lofted ball, and the superb Alvarez had drawn a rash tackle from goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic. Livakovic, a penalty-saving expert in shootouts, couldn’t get near this spot-kick, which was rifled high into the left side of his net by that remarkable left foot.

That dead-ball practice was useful. It’s a goal that helped Messi become Argentina’s all-time leading World Cup scorer, surpassing Gabriel Batistuta, who was in attendance. He is also the first Argentina player to score in three different World Cup knockout rounds; prior to this tournament, he had not scored a single knockout-stage goal.

Five minutes later, Alvarez found his way through a defense that parted like the Red Sea, effectively ending Croatia’s hopes. It did not happen because Alvarez only had his toe on the ball as he bundled through. Alvarez has now scored in six of Argentina’s eight starts, and the energy of youth is one of the foundations Scaloni is laying to help Messi, who was toying with Croatia’s defense by the end of the first half. Only a smart save from Livakovic early in the second half denied Messi a second goal after a quick exchange of passes with Enzo Fernandez, another member of Argentina’s next generation.

Last World Cup for Messi to win the Title for Argentina

FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 'Now is all' for Messi and Argentina as final beckons-3

Also Read: Argentina 3-0 Croatia, as Lionel Messi and Julian Alvarez fire Argentina into final

But Messi still had work to do. Croatia was exerting some pressure, so the game was not completely over. Until Messi decided it was time with 21 minutes left. Josko Gvardiol has been one of the tournament’s best defenders, with links to Europe’s elite, but the 20-year-old was twisted one way and then the other by Argentina’s captain, who coolly laid on Alvarez to round things off. Messi now has the most goal assists in Qatar, with eight. He is joint-top of the scoring charts with clubmate Kylian Mbappe, and that assist brought him level with another legendary Argentine number 10, Diego Maradona, who has eight assists in World Cup finals, a record since the 1966 edition.

His 19 goals in total at the World Cup are the most for a player in the 56 years for which data is available. He’s also the only player in the tournament to score and assist in four different matches. He will become the player with the most World Cup appearances in history if he plays in the final. It’s been 36 and a half years since Maradona led Argentina to victory in Mexico, but Messi now has the opportunity to do the same and finally claim the only trophy missing from his vast collection.

Of course, Maradona’s brilliance cannot be overlooked, but it’s worth noting that he was 25, 10 years younger than Messi is now, when he won Argentina their first World Cup. Argentina has finished second twice since then, most recently to Germany in 2014, during Messi’s prime. It will now face France or Morocco in Lusail on Monday. Messi will now have a second and final chance to win the World Cup. Of course, that’s all there is to it.

Also Read: Argentina stun Netherlands in a dramatic penalty shootout win by (3-4 on pens) and set up Croatia in semi

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