Messi And Argentina Brush Past Croatia Hoping For One Last Dance

Messi And Argentina Brush Past Croatia Hoping For One Last Dance

A sleek and shy boy from Rosario had a dream.
In pursuit of his goal, he made the world dream with him.

On the other side, a scrawny boy from war-torn Croatia had a dream too.
He made his country of just 4 million believe the impossible.

For two men with identical and iconic initials and jersey numbers – LM10, their renewed battle at the semi finals of the World Cup was another chance to chase their dreams that desired similar endings. Losing finalists from the last 2 editions, Lionel Messi, and Luka Modric, both had a chance to redeem their failures of the past.

Messi however had the last laugh as he helped La Albiceleste beat Croatia 3-0 at the Lusail Stadium to take his country to their 2nd World Cup final in 8 years. Despite reaching the final in the 2014 edition, their run this time around feels so much more emotional and cathartic for a multitude of reasons.

It has been 36 years since Argentina last lifted the World Cup. The exploits of the late Maradona, who was the flag bearer during Argentina’s success in 1986, had seen him be celebrated in the South American country and across the world.

In years gone by, Messi has often been compared to his predecessor and even chastised by his own people for not having achieved the same feat with the national team. Multiple years of struggle and turmoil post that have only intensified that hurt.

However, since that Copa America win last year at the Maracana against arch-rivals Brazil which ended Messi’s decade-and-a-half-long wait for an international trophy with his country, it seems like Argentina has finally turned a corner and truly embraced his genius.

Whilst winning the World Cup may eclipse his legacy in Argentina beyond that of Maradona’s, there is a feeling that he will still be loved as their own even if he doesn’t get his hands on the coveted trophy.

This sentiment was epitomized none more so than when Argentine reporter Sofia Martinez had this to say to Messi after the semi final victory –

“There’s no kid who doesn’t have your team flannel, no matter if it’s a fake, real or a made-up one. Truly, you made your mark in everyone’s life. And that, to me, is beyond winning any World Cup. No one can take that from you and this is my gratitude, for the amount of happiness you bring to a lot of people.”

As Messi smiled with his eyes welling up at her heartfelt comments, she continued, “I seriously hope you take those words into your heart because I really believe that’s more important than winning a World Cup and you already have it. So thank you, captain.”

The Lusail stadium was packed to the rafters in blue and white, with chants of ‘Messi’ reverberating throughout the stadium. In what could be Messi’s last World Cup, it seems like Argentinians are well aware that this could be the last time they witness their hero donning the country’s colours.

Facing Croatia for the first time since their embarrassing 3-0 loss to them at the World Cup in 2018, Argentina had a score to settle. Meanwhile, Croatia, who had lost to France in the finals of that very tournament, had another chance to redeem themselves four years later against possibly the same opposition.

Despite Messi opening the scoring with an inch perfect penalty, it was his combined efforts with the rest of the team that took them to their 5th World Cup final. Youngster Julian Alvarez’s inspiring solo run saw him score the 2nd goal just before half time, but it was the 3rd goal which took the noise levels to new highs.

In the 69th minute, Croatian youngster Gvardiol, perhaps the best defender at the World Cup and a player who’s impressed so much this tournament, was given a reality check when he came up against vintage Messi. Just when he’d thought he pushed Messi away towards the latter’s own goal & the touchline, the 7-time Balon d’Or winner rolled back the years with some inspired dribbling. When it seemed like the 35-year-old didn’t have the legs anymore to go past his man like he used to, the Argentine genius turned on the afterburners.

With quick feet and guile, he turned Gvardiol inside out and skipped past him almost like he didn’t exist on the pitch, pulling a pass back to Alvarez who got his second on the night. Just like how his defense-splitting pass to Molina against the Netherlands wowed the world, this move against Croatia got the world to stand up and applaud his greatness.

With young blood in Alvarez, Fernandez, and Romero and warhorses in De Paul and Emi Martinez ready to fight tooth and nail for their idol, this is a side that is unlike the Argentina of old. In what is a departure from the disjointed and Messi-reliant teams in the past, this is a side that plays as a unit.

“I have a million things in my head right now. I’m grateful for life, grateful for my grandparents who are no longer here…”, said an emotional Lisandro Martinez after the semi-final win, showcasing what it means to the players.

After their opening game loss to Saudi Arabia, it seemed like the dream was over for Messi. But Lionel Scaloni’s men have somehow pulled themselves out of the shadows to show the form that had led them to have their 36-game unbeaten streak prior to the tournament.

On the other side, despite losing, Croatia can be proud of what they have achieved. For a side that was thought to have lucked its way to the finals in 2018 to have almost repeated the same feat again shows that they aren’t just a one trick pony.

“Congratulations and I wish good luck in the final to Messi. He is having an amazing tournament and he’s showing his greatness.” said Modric, the perfect ambassador for this humble and hard-working Croatian side.

In-game, the Croatian midfield maestro was everywhere on the pitch, oozing with class and finesse on the ball. While the 38-year-old might have had his last hurrah, there is much to look forward to for the Croats. With Livakovic, Gvardiol, and Sosa at the back, and the midfield duo of Kovacic and Brozovic still having age on their side, they have a foundation that can carry the legacy of this era-defining team under coach Dalic into its next cycle.

While Croatia might have to settle for a 3rd place playoff match on Saturday, the streets of Buenos Aires and Rosario, all the way up to the Lusail stadium in Doha will be at a fever pitch anticipating a bigger event in store on Sunday.

When Argentina take on France in the final of the World Cup, history will be made, one way or another. France, who are looking to become the first nation since Brazil in 1962 to retain the cup, stand in Argentina’s way.

The last time these two sides faced each other in 2018, the game ended 4-3 in France’s favour. If the final is even remotely as exciting as that game, then we’re in for a treat.

The game will also witness Messi taking on his PSG teammate and possible successor in Mbappe. Will there be a changing of the guard with the 23-year-old Frenchman winning his 2nd World Cup and creating daylight between himself and the rest? Or will Argentina’s finest win the ultimate prize and officially stake his claim as the greatest of all time?

It all culminates in an enthralling evening on Sunday, as the World Cup draws to a close with one final showdown left. One team will revel in glory, while the other will shed tears of pain. Brace yourselves, it’s going to be one hell of a ride.

Also read: Moroccan Marvel Sees Africa Rejoice As Ronaldo & Portugal’s World Cup Dream Ends

Related post

The Greatest Of Finals: Argentina Go The Distance With Messi Immortalised

The Greatest Of Finals: Argentina Go The Distance With…

There are some stories that are just meant to be. Stories are at the core & heart of what it means…