Lionel Messi believes defeat to Saudi Arabia in Argentina’s opening game may have helped the Albiceleste reach the World Cup final.
Argentina suffered a shock 2-1 defeat in their first match of the tournament, but responded by beating Mexico and Poland to win Group C, then beat Australia and the Netherlands in the knockout stages.
Last night they defeated Croatia 3-0 to reach Sunday’s showpiece. Messi put them ahead from the penalty spot, then had a hand in both Julian Alvarez’s goals to earn another man of the match award and draw level with Kylian Mbappé in the race for the golden boot.
“What I can say is I’m really enjoying this – I feel really good,” the 35-year-old told the post-game press conference. “The first game of the World Cup was a hard blow for all of us because we had been unbeaten for 36 games. We didn’t think we would lose to Saudi Arabia, so to start like that was a tough test.
“But this team proved how strong we are. After that, every game was a final and that put a mental strain on us. If we didn’t win, it would be complicated for us. We played five finals and luckily we were able to win all five, I hope it will be the same for the last game.
“We knew what we were capable of – we lost the first game, but from then on it really helped us to be stronger and grow internally.”
Messi reserved praise for boss Lionel Scaloni and the staff in the backroom after riding to victory in the semi-finals despite having only 39 per cent of possession.
“We prepared this game in a very good way,” he said. “We knew that Croatia would have the ball, that we had to run in this game and then take our chances.
“This is a very intelligent and wise squad – we know how to read the game, we know how to suffer and when it is necessary to apply pressure. We have an excellent coaching staff who know what they are doing. Every detail counts in every match, we are not lost, we know what to do at every moment of the game, how to win.
“We knew we were going to play this game this way, so we weren’t desperate when we had to run. We knew their strength was possession, but we knew our strength could be getting the ball back because sometimes aren’t they.” tidy and they left spaces. I feel very happy in this World Cup.”
Scaloni returned the compliment, praising Messi for his performance. “Sometimes people might think that we will say it like Argentines, but I have no doubt, he is the best of all time. I have been saying this for a long time and I am honored to be able to train.” him and watch him play,” said the manager. “Every time you see him play, it’s a huge source of motivation for his teammates, for the Argentine people, for the whole world. It is a privilege to have him on this team.
“It is exciting to go through to the final, a historic moment and we have to enjoy it, but we are still one step ahead. It is very difficult to put into words, this is what I have always loved as an Argentinian dreamed You’re representing your country – it’s emotional.
“In difficult moments when we lost to Saudi Arabia, our people supported us, we could feel their support, they supported us, and that is something unforgettable.”
Zlatko Dalic confirmed that he will stay on as national coach of Croatia after this tournament. The Adriatic side now moves into third place in the play-offs on Saturday.
“Yes, I will continue, my contract runs until 2024,” he said. “In six months we have the Nations League final and my goal is to take Croatia to Euro 2024.
“The players are sad now, it’s really hard for them, they feel like they could have done more but they didn’t and we need to be ready for Saturday’s game.
“The first goal took the game in a different direction, but I told the players to keep their heads up, to be proud of what they have achieved so far and to be ready to fight for the title. Third place.”
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