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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Messi’s magic continues in Argentina’s romp over Croatia

Argentina forward Lionel Messi celebrates scoring his team’s first goal from the penalty spot during the World Cup semifinal match between Argentina and Croatia in Qatar on December 13, 2022.

By Rory Smith

Lionel Messi stood, his arms outstretched, in front of those who had come to adore him. Ordinarily, they would be jumping and writhing in celebration, but this time, as the fans moved toward him, they had created a logjam. They were, for just a second, frozen, perfectly still, a moment of quiet communion between the divine and his congregation.

Then, of course, it broke. Messi was flooded by his Argentina teammates, leaping onto his back, congratulating him, thanking him. He had not scored the goal — that simple task had fallen to Julián Álvarez — but he had created it, crowning the game with a piece of vintage Messi wonder, using a World Cup semifinal as a chance to become his own tribute act.

And so there he was, at the age of 35, scurrying down the wing, wriggling away from Josko Gvardiol, the Croatia defender who had shadowed him all night, and then slowing down so that he could beat him again, making it to the end line, clipping the ball back for Álvarez. This was Messi, playing the hits.

That is what he has been doing all tournament, of course, and now he has his reward. That goal was Argentina’s third of the night, the one that removed all doubt: Argentina had beaten Croatia, 3-0, on Tuesday at Lusail Stadium in Qatar, and Sunday, Messi will return to the World Cup final. Eight years since he lost one, a bitter defeat to Germany in Brazil, the player who might be the best of all time will grace the biggest game in the world. He will have his shot at redemption. He will have his chance at revenge.

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