With Argentina already leading 2-0 in the 68th minute, Lionel Messi found himself up against a center back on the outside edge of the 18-yard-box and his back to the Croatian goal. The defender facing him: Josko Gvardiol, one of the breakout stars of the World Cup and the sport’s most promising defenders.
The 5-foot-7, 35-year-old Lionel Messi made easy work of the gifted 20-year-old attempting to halt him.
The seven-time Ballon D’Or winner faked to his right side, proceeding to spin around Gvardiol, taking the ball to the endline and eventually slipped the ball through Gvardiol’s legs with a pass to forward Julian Alvarez. Alvarez, having already been fouled in the box to set up Messi’s penalty-kick goal in the 34th minute, as well as scoring a goal of his own, slammed the ball past the Croatian goalkeeper, adding the final tally of Argentina’s 3-0 victory over their European foes in the World Cup semifinal.
This view for THAT Lionel Messi assist 😍
— PFF FC (@PFF_FC) December 13, 2022
After the win, the joy of a nation could be felt through a television screen. But the assist by Messi, a moment of pure ecstasy in a tournament that has been full of them for one of the legends of the sport.
‘The older he gets, the better he gets’
After leading Argentina to triumph at last year’s Copa America, and winning every individual and club award he possibly could, the only vacant place in Messi’s scroll of accolades is a World Cup.
In Qatar, he’s morphed into something almost mythical, dazzling through every team in his path en route to a berth in the final.
“I don’t think he put a foot wrong in the whole tournament,” Argentina starting goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez said in a post-match interview posted on the Fox Soccer Twitter page. “Before he was outstanding in the Copa America, he gave us that trophy, but this World Cup, I think the older he gets, the better he gets.”
Argentina started out humbly in this World Cup, dropping their opener against Saudi Arabia 2-1. Since then, the Argentines have been forced to play every single game like it’s potentially their last and no one has risen to the occasion more than the team’s centerpiece.
We did not think we would lose to Saudi Arabia,” Messi said after the Croatia victory, via an article from ESPN. “It was an acid test of the whole squad but we proved how strong we are. We won the other matches and it was very difficult what we did. Every match was a final and we were aware if we did not win, things would be complicated for us.”
In the five matches since the disaster against the Saudis, Messi has tallied both a goal and an assist in three different matches, including the last two.
— Shaun Chornobroff (@SChornobroff) December 9, 2022
His individual moments of brilliance, before Tuesday’s assist, include a stunning goal from outside the box in Argentina’s second group stage match against Mexico, a great individual effort on the opening goal in a Round of 16 triumph over Australia and an absurd assist in the quarterfinal victory over the Netherlands.
— Shaun Chornobroff (@SChornobroff) November 26, 2022
A Final Farewell
Argentina will look to secure its first World Cup title since 1986 on Sunday at 10 a.m. EST when the opening whistle for the final blows. The game will be Messi’s 26th World Cup match, giving him the record for most appearances at the competition. It will also be his farewell, with the star confirming after his sensational semifinal performance that this will be his last game on the sport’s biggest stage.
Another angle of that insane assist of Messi against Netherlands pic.twitter.com/twImfe9HS8
— Akhlash (@Akhlash_lm10) December 13, 2022
“I feel very happy, to be able to achieve this, to finish my World Cup journey by playing my last game in a final. It’s many 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,” Messi said.
Having played all six of Argentina’s games, Messi has accrued five goals and delivered three assists, giving him a chance at his second World Cup Golden Boot and making him the joint leader for both categories at the thus far.
In every way possible Messi has lived up to expectations and then some, providing moments of other-worldly ability in a manner only he is capable of. Messi’s performances in Qatar may be one that ends up in soccer folklore.
Lucky for the country of Argentina and all of us able to watch, we get one last chance to see a maestro make his mark this Sunday.