Pre-tournament favorites Argentina fell at the first hurdle of the World Cup but rebounded to storm into yet another final, led by Lionel Messi, who has set a new record for most goals scored in a World Cup.
In 2010, Messi led Argentina to the World Cup final, but lost to Germany. This time, the team is backed by a strong supporting cast and a tactically adept coach in Lionel Scaloni, who has guided them to the showpiece match.
In order to reach the final, Argentina must follow the following steps:
MATCH 1 OF THE GROUP STAGE: ARGENTINA 1-2 SAUDI ARABIA
Despite coming into the tournament with a 36-match unbeaten record, Scaloni’s side suffered what had to be the biggest shock in World Cup history when they lost 2-1 to Saudi Arabia.
After Argentina had three goals disallowed for offside, Messi scored a penalty in the 10th minute of the first half before the Saudis struck twice in the second half to stun the South American champions. In terms of solace, Argentina can take comfort in the fact that they still made it to the final of the 1990 World Cup despite losing to Cameroon in their group opener.
Despite this, Scaloni remained calm and Messi rallied his troops by saying: “We must return to our roots.”
MATCH 2 OF THE GROUP STAGE: ARGENTINA 2-0 MEXICO
The absence of a World Cup trophy in Messi’s cabinet means he has never truly been considered an equal to Diego Maradona. However, against Mexico, Messi equaled the late Argentina legend’s record of 21 matches and eight goals at the World Cup. A little more than an hour into the match, Messi picked his moment and then picked his spot, firing home from 20 metres to notch a narrow win over goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa.
Enzo Fernandez scored another sublime strike to seal Argentina’s victory at Lusail Stadium, Qatar’s largest stadium, amid an electric atmosphere.
It is the start of another World Cup for Argentina today, Messi had stated after admitting that they had been poor in the first half. In the second half, we began to play the ball better. However, until the goal, we returned to our usual approach.
MATCH 3 ON THE GROUP STAGE: POLAND 1 – 2 ARGENTINA
Messi, Barcelona’s all-time top scorer, won the match for his side, while Robert Lewandowski, Barca’s top scorer this season, failed to score.
Despite winning a controversial penalty following a VAR check, Messi missed the spot as the Polish goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny made a fine save to deny the Argentinian captain. While Messi missed, he was at the center of Argentina’s attacks, establishing a free role up front, while Alexis MacAllister and Julian Alvarez scored for Argentina to take the tournament.
It was important for us to remain positive and calm (after Messi missed his penalty kick),” Mac Allister stated. As a team, we were optimistic and did not feel down. We were fortunate to win the game and progress to the next round.”
IN THE LAST 16: ARGENTINA defeated Australia by 2-1
During a physical last-16 match against Australia, Messi scored in his 1,000th match to surpass Maradona’s World Cup record. Messi’s goal was classic Messi, almost as if time stood still for everyone else except the 35-year-old, who responded quickly to a short layoff in little space to curl the ball home despite efforts by four defenders from Australia.
Alvarez made it 2-0, but Fernandez’s own goal set up a tense finish in which Argentina triumphed.
Our next match is against Holland, who play very well. Messi had stated that the match was going to be tough, as they had great players and a great coach. It turned out that his words were prophetic.
Quarterfinal score: Netherlands 2-2 Argentina(3-4 on penalties)
There were four goals, an equalizer at the death, brawls with benches emptying out, a tense penalty shootout, accusations of unsportsmanlike conduct, 16 yellow cards, and one red card in the Netherlands-Argentina game.
Scaloni (44) came out on top against Louis van Gaal (71), who discarded football purity in favour of pragmatism by adding striker Wout Weghorst, who stands at 6-foot-6 inches in height.
Messi was prominent once again, finding Nahuel Molina with an impossible pass to set up the opening goal and then converting a penalty. Still, Weghorst headed home before extending the match to extra time. It was an ill-tempered game as Argentina recovered from the last-gasp equaliser and in the shoot-out, goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez made two saves before Lautaro Martinez finished it off to eliminate the Dutch.
As a result of the bad blood spilling into the tunnel, plenty of words were exchanged. After the situation calmed down, Messi stated that Diego (Maradona) was watching us from heaven. He is pushing us, and I hope this continues until the very end.”
The semifinal results were as follows: ARGENTINA 3-0 Croatia
In their match against Croatia, a team that had not won a knockout game in normal time since 1998, Argentina passed with flying colours as Messi almost single-handedly defeated the runners-up.
As well as earning the penalty that Messi converted with aplomb, Alvarez scored twice, his first goal being a fantastic solo run from halfway line to beat three defenders. In this instance, Messi took control of the proceedings, setting up Alvarez with the crucial touch before his own run from the halfway line and dribble past Josko Gvardiol set up his young strike partner for the simple finish.
Argentina’s captain urged his team to turn up one last time before the international break, while Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic hailed Messi as the “best player in the world.”
Since the Saudi defeat, we have played five finals and have won five of them. This is how I hope it will be for the final game,” said Messi, who has five goals at the tournament, one more than Kylian Mbappe of France.
In Sunday’s final, Argentina will face either France or Morocco, the holders.