In Tuesday’s World Cup semi-final, Messi scored his first goal of his own and assisted on Julián Álvarez’s other two goals in Argentina’s 3-0 win.
A convincing win against Croatia means the white and blue will face either France or Morocco in Sunday’s World Cup final broadcast by NRK.
Thus Argentina got the chance to take the proud football nation’s first World Cup gold since 1986.
But perhaps even more exciting in the eyes of many Europeans: Lionel Messi is now just one game away from the trophy that many believe will cement him as the greatest footballer of all time.
And Messi seems obsessed with succeeding this time around. Against Croatia, he was, like several times before in Qatar, an important player in the match.
Egil “Drillo” Olsen commented on the match on NRK Sport radio. The old national team manager actually summed up Messi’s evening in a fitting way midway through the game:
– Croatia has stopped sending two guys to him. Now they sent three.
– We will never see anything like it
Now the debate continues: Can anyone match the 35-year-old Argentinian superstar’s career in football history?
– Now we have to stop talking about who is the best footballer of all time. No one around. We will never see anything like this as long as our hearts are beating. Amazingly good time and time again, said TV 2 football pundit Jesper Mathisen on Twitter.
– Is there still debate, asks English football profiler Gary Lineker rhetorically.
Former England player Gary Neville is in the semifinals for ITV. He fell silent in awe, like most of the others.
– Argentina has ten fighting cocks and one genius, says Neville according to the BBC.
– Messi is the best, says Jamie Carragher.
Who is the best soccer player of all time?
After the match, the superstar held a press conference. There he was asked if this was the best version we’ve seen of him in WC.
– All I can say is I really enjoyed this. I feel so good. I feel strong enough to be ready for every game. The previous game was a big sacrifice. We have to have extra periods, and it’s not easy. Today we were tired but we played to our strengths and deserved this win. “I feel very happy at this World Cup, and fortunately I can help the whole team,” said Messi.
– A big slap in the face
Few thought Argentina would make it to the final when they opened the World Cup with a loss to Saudi Arabia in what has been described as one of the biggest shocks in World Cup history.
– I would say that the first game was a slap in the face, because we were unbeaten in 26 matches. To start like that in WC, it’s really hard. We didn’t think we were going to lose against Saudi Arabia and it was a big test to start like that. But once again this team showed how strong we are, said Messi.
He described the poor start to the World Cup as the fact that Argentina went on to play in five finals.
– Fortunately, we have won five finals. I hope it will be the same in the last final. Internally, we believe we can do it, because we know what we are capable of. “We lost the first game because of the margin, but it helped us become stronger as a team,” said Messi.
The 35-year-old, who already holds most of the records one could possibly have in top-flight football, added to his tally in Tuesday’s game.
First he equaled German legend Lothar Matthaus’ record for number of World Cup games (25), then he scored his 11th career World Cup goal and became Argentina’s all-time World Cup top scorer.
Croatia coach Zlatko Dalić is at a loss for words about Tuesday’s overman.
– Well, not much more needs to be said about Messi’s qualities. In the last 15 years, he has probably been the best player in the world. Today he came back very good and dangerous. He created a quality difference for the Argentina team. That is the real version of Messi, he told NRK.
National team manager Ståle Solbakken sits in the TV 2 studio and lets himself be impressed. He believes that Messi is showing his best side as a leader in this championship.
– We’ve seen in some World Cup finals and championship finals that he fumbles and doesn’t give anything away physically and mentally from himself. Here he gave it both ways, in that he took his team-mates out and showed temperament on and off the pitch. He stands out as a great leader, and that was previously a fascination with Maradona, said Solbakken.
Egil Drillo Olsen believes the Argentine number ten was good throughout the championship, but perhaps the best in the semifinals.
– Not only the third goal, which was absolutely phenomenal, but the other way around. He almost never made a mistake. He was a little involved in the first half of the first half, but as he gets more involved, take your hat off. “He’s amazing,” Drillo told NRK.
That it was Lionel Messi and Julián Álvarez who would send Argentina to the World Cup final may have been written in the stars.
In June 2015, when Álvarez was just 15 years old, he posted a selfie with Messi on his Instagram account. Álvarez is said to be 11 years old when the photo was taken.
“Happy birthday to the best player in history. Thank you so much, idol,” wrote Álvarez on the photo.
Seven years later they jointly sank Croatia and secured their ticket to the final. After the semi-finals, old photos have now gone viral and been shared by football fans around the world.
Among other things, well-known journalists Fabrizio Romano has shared the photo with his 12 million Twitter followers. He has received thousands of likes and shares.
So is the Mexican Twitter account Invictos Finished. The account has more than one million followers.
Alvarez also became the first Argentine to score in three different games in his first World Cup tournament since Leopoldo Luque in 1978. Messi’s goals in five games in the same World Cup is also an Argentine record.
The Argentinian superstar was part of the 2014 final when Argentina lost 1-0 against Germany, and went on to win the World Cup. This trophy is lacking from an overflowing cupboard.
And everything indicates that this year’s World Cup will be the last for a 35-year-old Messi. In an interview before the group stage, Messi replied that this was “definitely his last World Cup”. As such, Sunday’s game is even more of a historic rush.
For Croatian star Luka Modric (37), WC, also last, continues with a bronze final on Saturday.
Messi’s penalty and incredible goal
The game itself started evenly and with few chances, but after just over half an hour it really hit the Lusail stadium. A brilliant pass from Enzo Fernández sent Julián Álvarez alone with Dominik Livakovic doing his best to save City’s talented finish.
Instead, he fouled Álvarez, prompting referee Daniele Orsato to quickly point to the spot and show the goalkeeper a yellow card.
From the penalty spot, Messi was merciless and scored 1-0 with a well-placed and high spot-kick.
– Such a punishment cannot be saved. Hard, loud and way around the corner, Egil “Drillo” Olsen told radio broadcasts on NRK.
Six minutes before the break, Argentina added advantage. A missed set-piece by Croatia prompted Argentina to strike back, and the ball ended up with the fast-paced Julián Álvarez.
From his own half, the forward brought the ball forward but appeared to miss it once and twice. A series of good old-fashioned “club og babb” still saw him get the ball over the Croatian defensive line, and from close range Álvarez scored to make it 2-0.
As expert TV 2 commentator Petter Myhre so well put it: If he tries 500 more times, he won’t be able to score.
On NRK radio broadcast, Drillo pointed out that, separately, the Argentinian star should have chosen a different situation before the goal.
– It’s actually possible to criticize him for not playing that ball to the side, to a player who is alone with the keeper. He was kind of lucky to get one, said Drillo.
But there were goals, and it was 2-0 at half-time.
Croatia started the second half well and looked to get back into the game but you can have the best game plan in the world. When the opponent has Lionel Messi, it is not certain that he will survive.
– Pure and clean art
And 20 minutes before the end we saw why. Then Messi took out the ball on the right side, and decided to cash in a ticket to the World Cup merry-go-round with Josko Gvardiol, the Croatian goalkeeper who has become one of the best in the championship.
But in meetings with Messi, Guardiola looks like what he is, a junior player. Messi fooled him twice and thrice before freeing Álvarez – who was given the easy job to score 3-0.
– Pure, pure art from one of the greatest artists the sport has ever seen, says TV 2 commentator Øyvind Alsaker.
Egil Drillo Olsen called Messi’s appearance before the goal a miracle.
– It shouldn’t be possible to get around there, like he did. Facing the wrong way and with two players around him, then he came to the deadline line and was subbed. Amazing. This is the art of football, emphasized Drillo.
3-0 was also the final result at the Lusail stadium, which was also the venue for the final in Qatar. Messi is so comfortable there that it should be a warning shot for Sunday’s opponents.
Wednesday’s semifinal between Morocco and France kicks off at 20:00 on Wednesday night. There it will be decided whether to be the big favorite from baguette nation or the underdog from Morocco who are hoping to play in the final on Sunday.
The semifinals are shown on TV 2.
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