Messi helped Argentina defeat Croatia 3-0 to get to the World Cup final.

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Qatar’s LUSAIL (AP) — With Argentina, Lionel Messi is back in the World Cup final and aiming to capture the sport’s top honor for the first time.

And at 35, he’s not exactly playing at his best.

Argentina defeated Croatia 3-0 on Tuesday, with Messi scoring a penalty and helping Julián Alvarez score the other two goals. This victory secured Argentina a spot in Sunday’s championship game against either France or Morocco.

It may be Messi’s final participation at the World Cup after Argentina lost the other final against Germany in 2014. This will be Messi’s second World Cup final.

It may still be the ideal way for a player who is widely recognized as one of the finest players in the game, if not the best, to retire.

With his turn and driving run to set up Alvarez’s third goal in the 69th minute, Messi epitomized his confidence and swagger and continued to enthrall his army of admirers. By scoring in five of his six games in Qatar, he is embracing the burden of guiding Argentina to their third World Cup victory.
Even though he didn’t score, he had a penalty saved in the game.
After surrendering two goals in the space of five minutes starting in the 34th minute, just as the squad was beginning to feel secure at Lusail Stadium, Croatia was unable to go to a second consecutive World Cup final.
Midway through the first half, Messi looked to grab and rub his left hamstring, which must have instilled panic in the hearts of all Argentines.
Was the Argentine superstar going to be forced to leave? Croatia had no such luck.
As soon as Alvarez clipped the ball past Croatia’s goalie, Dominik Livakovic brought him down, and Messi began playing with his opponents in a way only he can. Messi then gave Argentina the lead by converting his penalty into the top corner.
After a frantic run beginning with Messi’s short ball and ending around halfway, Alvarez punched home his first goal. He scored the third after his colleague displayed even more incredible technique in the right corner, leaving Josko Gvardiol, one of the greatest defenders at the World Cup, scrambling for air.
For Croatia, which had defeated Brazil and Japan on penalties in the last round, and star midfielder Luka Modric, who is 37 and possibly has played his last World Cup match, it was one game too far.
The small midfield wizard was replaced in the 81st minute with a bright red nose after the ball smacked in his face only seconds before, capping off a difficult encounter.
Argentina has never lost in the World Cup semifinals, and they have already advanced to the final six times.
Argentina’s sad days following their defeat to Saudi Arabia in their first group game seem like a lifetime ago today, and with Messi playing this brilliantly, they will be difficult to stop in the championship game.

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