Lionel Messi leaves World Cup fans in disbelief with 'insane' act
Lionel Messi has left football fans gobsmacked after a semi-final masterclass against Croatia that helped book his side a place in the World Cup final. Messi scored the opening goal from the penalty spot and set up one of Julian Alvarez's two goals with a sublime assist, as Argentina lay down an emphatic marker with a crushing 3-0 victory.
It was by far the most complete performance from Argentina so far at this tournament and Messi was typically at the heart of it. At 35 years of age, it could realistically be the last World Cup for the little maestro who keeps his dream alive of winning the only major trophy that has eluded him in an extraordinary career.
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Argentina will watch on anxiously now to see whether they will face World Cup holders France or African history-makers Morocco in the final, with the second semi-final being played on Thursday morning (AEDT). For Messi, Monday morning's decider will be his second World Cup final - Argentina lost the other one to Germany in 2014 - in what might be his last appearance at the tournament.
It could yet be the perfect way to go out for a player widely regarded as one of the game's all-time best players. The Paris Saint-Germain superstar is embracing the responsibility of leading Argentina towards what could be their third World Cup title, and has now scored in five of his six games in Qatar.
Messi opened the scoring from the penalty spot after a sweetly struck effort into the top corner after Alvarez was taken out by Dominik Livakovic, having just got a touch to the ball before Croatia's goalkeeper before the pair clattered together.
Alvarez doubled his side's lead moments later after poking home his first goal at the end of a surging run from halfway, which started from a crucial with Messi touch just inside Croatia's half. The Manchester City striker rode his luck after benefiting from a number of fortuitous rebounds off the hapless Croatian defenders, before volleying past Livakovic.
The third goal - again scored by Alvarez - was undeniably the pick of the bunch and came after a mesmerising run from Messi that has been a trademark the Argentinian magician for so many years. The 35-year-old stood up Croatian defender Joško Gvardiol with an incredible piece of trickery, before cutting the ball back from the byline for Alvarez to sweep home, in a run and assist that was described by viewers as "insane" and "ridiculous".
Stop it, Leo. Just, STOP IT! 😱😱😱
The little magician turns Josko Gvardiol with ease before teeing up Julian Alvarez for La Albiceleste's third! 👌
📺 WATCH: https://t.co/zovdNzMiU5
📻 LISTEN: https://t.co/Mc8ZSpkEj3 #SBSWorldCup #WeAllSpeakFootball #FIFAWorldCup pic.twitter.com/dnFV4yPISy
— SBS Sport (@SBSSportau) December 13, 2022
OMG MESSI. YOU ARE SIMPLY INSANE what a run !!! What an assist 😭❤️🔥#ArgentinaVsCroatia | #FIFAWorldCup#Messi𓃵 #FIFAWorldCupQatar2022https://t.co/YsNSUieTb2
— Ishaan ❤️🔥 (@leo_goat_messi) December 13, 2022
The Messi masterclass again, the man isn’t human.
— Jamie Segal (@jamiewhu01) December 13, 2022
Messi rolling back the years. Utterly insane performance from him so far. Making the world class Modric look mediocre.
— RG (@registability) December 13, 2022
Another Messi masterclass helps Argentina to the World Cup Final 🐐 pic.twitter.com/dzkxdMoU5T
— FootballJOE (@FootballJOE) December 13, 2022
Messi just did that to the defender of the tournament, btw. I was lost for words about a decade ago, now I’m practically paralysed. Ridiculous.
— Neal 🇦🇺 (@NealGardner_) December 13, 2022
Messi is playing in a World Cup semifinal as if it’s a playground. Insane
— MC (@CrewsMat10) December 13, 2022
What Messi is doing at the age of 35 is ridiculous. 7 G/A in the World Cup & 21 G/A for PSG this season. Truly the goat.
— Conn (@ConnCFC) December 13, 2022
I respect Ronaldo obviously but how you can watch football and not decide Lionel Messi is the obvious GOAT is insane to me.
— george (@StokeyyG2) December 13, 2022
Croatia fall short of back-to-back World Cup finals
Croatia's hopes in the match rested largely with veteran playmaker Luka Modric, who was playing some incisive passes, with Mateo Kovacic the driving force in midfield beside him. However, as the game wore on there was a sense that the Croatian's impressive midfield unit was lacking an elite striker to provide service to and finish off the chances.
In contrast, Argentina had the incomparable Messi, who had already made history by merely stepping onto the field, equalling Germany great Lothar Matthaus’ record of playing in 25 World Cup matches. Barring injury, he will own that record outright after Monday's final.
Other decent first half chances fell to Modric, who saw a shot blocked, while Argentina keeper Emiliano Martinez did well to prevent a Josip Juranovic attempt creeping in just before the break. Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic made two changes for the second half as Croatia pushed to reduce the deficit, but their lack of a frontman continued to hampered the 2018 World Cup finalists.
Livakovic denied Messi from an acute angle as Argentina sought to expose gaps – although their skipper can find spaces where few thought any existed. The captain burst past Gvardiol after showing impressive close control in the 69th minute. The talented Croatia defender eventually got back, only for Messi to turn him and cut back for Alvarez to slot home.
That strike ended the contest. Ivan Perisic saw a driven free-kick saved and Modric was applauded by both sets of fans as he was withdrawn. Alexis Mac Allister volleyed wide and substitute Lovro Majer tried his luck as the match wound down, with Argentina’s bench jumping in unison with their fans’ chants before the final whistle sparked wild celebrations.
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