Lionel Messi delivered a stunning performance on Tuesday – with a goal and an assist – against Croatia but the 35-year-old football icon credited his team for staying focused in the 3-0 demolition of the runners-up at Russia 2018.
Messi, playing his final World Cup, on Tuesday scored his fifth goal in Qatar before helping young striker Julian Alvarez score his second goal of the World Cup semi-final at Lusail Stadium where 88,966 fans roundly cheered for the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner.
Messi is just one win away from leading two-time champions Argentina to FIFA World Cup glory but the PSG star was yesterday quick to applaud the side coached by Lionel Scaloni.
“We played with discipline (against Croatia). We knew the game would be set up this way. We’ve done a great job,” Messi said after the one-side win for Argentina.
“We were aware they’d keep possession of the ball, as they have key players in that sense, making us run. But despite that, we created our usual chances, the game also got out of hand quickly,” Messi added.
The former Barcelona stalwart said Argentina expected a feisty yet flawed game plan from Croatia captained by Real Madrid star Luka Modric.
“We prepared for this game in the best way, as usual,” Messi said. “As I said earlier, we knew the game would have the shape it had. That’s why we didn’t feel desperate when we had to run, or when they ran from one flank to another.
“We knew that was their strength: keeping possession of the ball. But we also knew we could make the most of that whenever we recovered the ball. They play in a very unorganised way in the midfield to keep the ball, leaving many spaces,” he explained while taking questions at the post-match press conference.
“Well, I don’t know if I answered your question, but that’s pretty much my take! I think that’s how this team can be described,” he added.
When reminded that he had scored five goals and produced three crucial assists out of Argentina’s 12 goals in Qatar, Messi said he wasn’t sure if he had offered his best World Cup in his fifth attempt.
“I have no clue. What I know is how much I’m enjoying this moment. Luckily, I feel good, I feel strong to face every single game,” Messi said. “We’ve made huge sacrifices. In the last game, we played (a) long extra time, which was not easy at all. As for today, we were exhausted, but the team dug in, adding some more extra energy to win,” he added.
“Personally, I’ve felt really happy throughout the whole tournament, and I still do now. Luckily, I’ve managed to help the team get the results we wanted,” he said.
Messi, while giving credit to the plans charted out by coach Scaloni, said Argentina played ‘smart football’.
“Well, this team – putting aside the strength we have collectively – is very smart, and we know how to read key moments of the game, of every game. Scaloni stated that we’ve got a very smart team, that knows when and how to dig in, we know when and how to have the possession of the ball, we know when to press, when to sit back,” the Argentine captain explained.
“All in all, we understand each game and we prepare the best way, along with a professional coaching staff that pays attention to detail.
“They highlight everything you need to be aware of in each game, even if it’s minimal. That’s hugely helpful for us, when we’re on the pitch. We never feel lost. We can always tell what our duties are: to clinch victories,” he said.
Messi said Argentina had battled through like champions following the shock defeat against Saudi Arabia on November 22.
“The first match was a hard blow to all of us. At the time we had played the last 36 matches without a single loss. So, to lose the first match in the World Cup to a team nobody thought we could lose to was a strong blow to all of us as a group,” Messi said of the Group C clash at Lusail Stadium.
“But this group (of players) showed, once again, its strength. We pulled through and won match after match. We’ve done something amazing because every match after that was like a final.
“It was mentally exhausting to play every match like that, knowing that a single loss or draw could put us in a complicated situation. So, we played 5 finals, and luckily won all of them.
“Hopefully we’ll win the next one too. I think among ourselves we were too confident back then, because we knew our potential as a group, and we lost the first match by a fine margin. That helped us grow as a team and advance in the tournament,” Messi said.

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