FLOW Qatar Spotlight | A coach’s brilliance, a player’s brilliance, and an outgoing legend
Argentina played their best game yet
Penalty aside, Argentina put the screws to Croatia and never eased up. No extra-time needed. What was billed as a battle of atrition ended up being a display that showed this version of Argentina is ready to take the ultimate prize.
Julian Alvarez has become the Robin to Lionel Messi's Batman.
Two goals from him, the latter coming off a brilliant assist from Messi, which put Croatian centreback Josko Gvardiol, who has had an outstanding tournament under manners.
Just like their Copa America run last year where Messi finally lifted a continental prize, The Albeceleste have all the components to end the 30-year wait for the World Cup title.
Argentina's shock defeat at the hands of Saudi Arabia in the first game of the group stage seems like a lifetime ago. What could have been the first signs of a trainwreck ended up being the catalyst for what we have now.
Croatia just ran into a hill too steep to climb. When you are taking off your talisman and captain Luka Modric with 10 minutes to go, you are essentially waving the white flag. It will surely be his final World Cup for one of the best midfielders the world has seen.
Scaloni was brilliant, France or Morocco beware
Lionel Messi was brilliant. Argentina were awesome. A game Croatia went home.
Many years ago, when a young Lionel Messi sat on the bench and his coach José Péckerman, facing Germany, blundered by not bringing on Messi earlier and blew a 1-0 lead to eventually lose 4-2 on penalties, I began to chart the coaching record of Argentina.
And in those five World Cups, this is the first time I have come across an Argentina coach who gives me confidence.
Lionel Scaloni was brilliant.
This was the first game the Croatians were playing where they were pulled from their comfort zone.
Argentina appeared to have started on the back foot, even with the extra man in midfield, but the coach knew that with a narrow, diamond shaped midfield, Croatia’s three-man wrecking crew in Mateo Kovačić, Luca Modric and Marcelo Brozović would keep the ball but would not be able to find any real joy going forward.
That put Croatia in a position they’d never been in before. They were now the aggressors trying to unlock the opponents defence, rather than the other way around.
They saw a light at the end of the tunnel and Scaloni, through the off-the-ball movements of Julian Alvarez and the on-the-ball genius of Messi, took all of it away.
Counter-attacking the counter-attackers.
Early goal the key to unlocking Croatia
Argentina's penalty to open the scoring in their World Cup semifinal against Croatia may have been somewhat questionable.
However, after the South Americans got the opening goal, it was clear there was only going to be one winner, with the Croatians looking vulnerable on the counter.
The Croatians were also vulnerable to the Argentine dribbling, with Julian Alvarez and the little maestro, Lionel Messi, duly making them pay. Argentina have now been to six World Cup finals, winning half of them shouldn’t be a stretch.
For even the most stringent Messi hater, his performance against Croatia in semi-final 1 of the FIFA World Cup was utterly breathtaking. Breathtaking because in all three of his team’s goals, he had a hand in it, he was front and center of the Argentine orchestra. With all the talks, the jabs levied on “Ball Jesus” he has withstand the plethora of them all, so far, and has gone on to become the country’s all-time leading goal scorer at the World Cup and leader of the 2022 golden boot race in Qatar. Irrespective of what happens from here on in, Messi has silenced the critics and showed when the world has all eyes on him, whether to fail or succeed, he has stood tall.
Messi’s performance stinging of a certain Diego Maradona
Messi’s performance at the World cup, so far, is similar to Usain Bolt’s at the Olympics, Jordan in the NBA Finals, Tiger Woods at the Master’s and Roger Federer at Wimbledon, and interestingly, to the late Diego Maradona’s in 1986.
When you are at the pinnacle of your sport, what do you do, shine or hide? He has shone and shone brightly.
Croatia have nothing to be ashamed of, great walk Luka, the better man on the day got the ‘W’.