Messi: Losing the first game helped us reach the WC final

LUSAIL, Qatar – Lionel Messi praised Argentina for passing the “acid test” in bouncing back from defeat against Saudi Arabia in their opening game to reach the World Cup final.

Sunday’s game will see Argentina face either France or Morocco after Messi inspired Lionel Scaloni’s side to a 3-0 win over Croatia at the Lusail Stadium on Tuesday.

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Messi, 35, opened the scoring with a penalty in the 34th minute before two Julian Alvarez goals either side of half-time – including a superb solo run for his first goal – settled the game against a jaded Croatian outfit with midfielder Luka Modric almost certain to feature in the game. His last World Cup.

Argentina’s comeback was a far cry from their Group C start at the same stadium, suffering a stunning 2-1 loss to Saudi Arabia, ranked 51st in the world.

Only one team – Spain in 2010 – have ever lost their opening game at a World Cup and managed to lift the trophy.

And after making his 25th World Cup appearance, equaling Germany’s Lothar Matthaus’ record, and scoring his 11th World Cup goal to surpass Gabriel Batistuta’s record in Argentina, Messi said: “I would say the first game was a big blow for all of us. .” because we are unbeaten in 36 matches.

“To start like that in the World Cup is a blow, we didn’t think we would lose to Saudi Arabia. It was a tough test for the whole squad but this squad proved how strong we are.

“We won the other game. It was very difficult what we did because every game is a final and we know if we don’t win everything will be complicated for us.

“It’s a mental load because we knew things were going to be more complicated for us. We’ve managed to win five finals and I hope it will be like this for the last game.”

“Internally we are confident that we will succeed because we know what we are capable of as a squad. We lost the first game because of good details but it helped us to be stronger.

“Let’s enjoy this moment. It’s great to see the joy of our fans here and in Argentina. We will give everything we have in the final but also need to enjoy what we have achieved.

“I really enjoyed this moment. We felt strong before the game even after a very long game, which was not easy at all. We were tired but the team put its energy on the pitch for this game.”

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Messi confirmed on Tuesday that he will play his final World Cup game when Argentina face either France or Morocco in Sunday’s final in Qatar.

“I feel very happy, to be able to achieve this, to finish my World Cup journey by playing my last match in the final. Still years for the next one and I don’t think I’ll be able to do it. And to finish like this, it’s the best,” said the Argentina captain.

Messi’s performance on Tuesday was also praised by Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic.

“He is the best player in the world, he is dangerous and he has quality,” said Dalic. “He has technique and put in a high level of performance, that’s the real Messi we hoped for.”

Messi was awarded the official man of the match award but the Paris Saint-Germain star reserved special praise for Alvarez, who became the second Argentinian to score four goals at the same World Cup aged 22 and under after Gonzalo Higuain.

“Our best quality is the way we play as a team, but tonight Julian was our standout player,” said Messi.

“He had an extraordinary game. He ran more than anyone, he created many goal chances. He is our most important player and he deserves the best player award.”

Argentina reached their first final since 2014 and could end a 36-year wait to lift the World Cup this weekend.

Scaloni said: “I try not to get too emotional. It’s very difficult to put into words. This is what I always dreamed of as an Argentinian.

“Everyone will act like I did when you represented your country, your nation, but it’s impossible not to do what my players did. It’s thrilling, it’s emotional.

“You can win or lose but what I can say is that it is very exciting. Our people support us, we can feel their support and it is something unforgettable. We made history and this is a reason to be happy.”

Reuters contributed to this report.

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