Al Dien, Qatar – Knockout tournaments like the World Cup usually require you to finish strong, unlike, say, a league format where you can build up a big lead early and be the first to cross the finish line. Huh. Argentina Apparently got the message. that night Lionel Messi He reached his sixth World Cup final in the most convincing way possible, scoring his 11th World Cup goal (overtaking Gabriel Batistuta in the country’s men’s tournament history) in his 25th World Cup match (equaling Lothar Matthäus).
The Argentine came out for his pre-match warm-up with the swagger of a pro wrestler, as the Lusail Stadium DJ played Rodrigo’s “La Mano de Dios”, a Diego Maradona tribute set to a “cumbia” beat. And, as is the case with a pro wrestler’s entrance music, most Albiceleste The crowd dutifully popped.
Big entrances, however, mean little when they are not supported by big performances. In fact Argentina was getting better as the tournament progressed. apart from the third group game against polandHowever, they failed to put together a 90-minute performance, allowing a two-goal margin to slip against the team. Netherlands in the quarter-finals (they eventually progressed on penalties) and doing almost the same Australia In the round of 16.
Tuesday night at the Lusail Iconic Stadium was different. It was widespread. It was assured. It was control. And, while Messi opened the scoring from the spot and provided a ridiculous moment of skill in setting up the third goal, it was a team performance. Whatever Messi’s addiction had affected him in the past, he was cured overnight. He was only the cherry on top.
Argentina boss Lionel Scaloni knew how Croatia were going to play His counterpart Zlatko Dalić made no secret of it. In his view, they had “the best midfield in the world”. luka modric, Mateo Kovacic And Marcelo Brozovic, And he was going to use it to control the game as much as possible. it was the gameplan that worked so well against Brazil: Allow the opposition to chase you when you have the ball, not least because, if you have possession, other people can’t score on you.
To counter the threat, Argentina used a back four and a de facto diamond in midfield. went out Lisandro Martinez back, came in leandro paredes, a ball-playing defensive midfielder. with rodrigo de paul, enzo fernandez And Alexis McAllisterIt didn’t just mean they had an extra man in the middle to counter the Croatia trio, they also had a midfield that could amp up the intensity.
It mattered against a Croatia side that is older and that went on penalties twice in the previous round. Fernandez’s through ball just after the half-hour mark Julian Alvarezthat was brought down dominik livkovich in boxes. Messi converted from the spot.
Moments later, Argentina had a dose of good luck, but of the kind that favors the brave. Alvarez picked up a loose ball near the halfway point and proceeded to counter like a runaway freight train. the ball carroms off josco guardiol (twice) and then borna sosa And yet, as if by magic, it remained in Alvarez’s path so he could hit home.
Argentina were up 2–0 and were on their way. In fact, they could have made it three before the break but Levakovic was cautious Nicolas TagliaficoNear-post header of.
Dalik is a man who never gives up, but he is also a realist. He clearly realized that his midfield triangle was not going to get Croatia back in the game, and by the fifth minute of the second half, he had sent off two wingers (Mislav Orsik And Nikola Vlasic) and a fiery centre-forward (bruno petkovich) while offloading his midfield general to Brozovic. Croatia were going to go straight.
Scaloni counters the Dalek’s chess move with a move of his own. Paredes came out, Martínez went in, giving Argentina three more spare bodies to counter the inevitable airstrikes.
Argentina were comfortable and organized and could launch counters. And then, of course, there was the Messi factor: the fact that anywhere, at any time, he can do the unimaginable. With 20 minutes to go, he received the ball in transition, headed wide around the halfway mark, with Guardiol on his heels.
It was the 35-year-old Messi against Guardiola, who is not only 15 years his junior but also one of the best young defenders in Europe. You expect Messi to conjure up some sort of footwork trickery to find space, or perhaps see (and pull off) a pass that no one else sees. You don’t expect him to take Yuvan for a ride.
But that’s what he did.
Messi went on one of those runs where he appears to take 10 steps a second, with Guardiola above him, matching step by step. A flimsy, one-stop-start, Messi, however, could not shake his mark. Still the ball stuck to his leg. A dragback, a pirate, and yet there was Guardiol, impossible to lose, like a reflection in a mirror. And so Messi faked one way and went the other way, legs pumping fast, and somehow dribbled around Guardiol the way he did with a thousand and one orange cones in training as a kid. must have done around It was a feat as athletic as it was technical. It’s not what you’d expect from a veteran. But then again, Messi is Messi.
He capped it off with a simple square ball into the box, which slotted home to the waiting Alvarez and that was it. Except, of course, for a highlight-reel memory of an unreal piece of skill that’s probably already been turned into a GIF.