LUSAIL [QATAR]: Argentina's star footballer Lionel Messi has credited his team's loss against Saudi Arabia in the campaign opener as the biggest boost that helped them qualify for the World Cup final.
Messi's goal in the 34th minute helped Argentina take the lead in the semifinal against Croatia on Tuesday. Julian Alvarez scored a brace to take Argentina into the final and knock out the 2018 World Cup runners-up.
Argentina will play the winner of the second semifinal between France and Morocco on Sunday in the championship after Messi inspired Lionel Scaloni's team to a 3-0 victory against Croatia. Argentina's comeback is a huge contrast from their disastrous Group C debut, where they lost to Saudi Arabia, the 51st-ranked team in the world, 2-1. Messi says that loss forged the team to be stronger.
"I would say that the first match was a hard blow for all of us because we had been unbeaten in 36 matches. To start in such a way in a World Cup was a blow, we did not think we would lose to Saudi Arabia. It was an acid test for this whole squad but this squad proved how strong we are," Messi was quoted as saying by ESPN.
"We won the other matches. It was very difficult what we did because every match was a final and we were aware if we did not win things would be complicated for us.
This is a mental load because we knew things would be more complicated for us. We managed to win five finals and I hope it will be this way for the final game," said the forward as quoted by ESPN.
Messi appeared in his 25th World Cup match, tying Lothar Matthaus of Germany for the most, and took his tally of goals at the World Cup to 11, breaking Gabriel Batistuta's Argentina record and was happy after the win.
"Internally we were confident that we would make it because we know what we are capable of as a squad. We lost in the first match due to fine details but it helped us to be stronger. Let's enjoy this moment. It's great to see the joy in our fans here and in Argentina.
"We are going to give all that we have in the final but also need to enjoy what we achieved. I am enjoying this moment a lot. We feel strong before the game even after a very long last game, the previous one wasn't easy at all. We were tired but the group brought its energy on the pitch to face this game," added an ecstatic Messi.
Croatia suffered heartbreak after coming second to the South-American team but the team's coach heaped praises on Messi for his superb showing in the semifinal.
"He is the best player in the world, he was dangerous and he has quality. He has technique and put in a high-level performance, it was the true Messi we expected to see," said Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic.
Messi won the game's official man of the match award, but the Paris Saint-Germain star saved special applause for Alvarez, who joined Gonzalo Higuain as the first player from Argentina to score four goals in the same World Cup while still under the age of 22.
"Our best quality is the way we play as a team but tonight Julian was our standout player. He had an extraordinary game. He ran more than anyone, he generated a lot of goal chances. He was our most important player and he deserves the best player award," said Messi.
The South American team has the chance to end a 36-year wait for the World Cup when they play in the final this weekend. Argentina last won the World Cup in 1986.
The only side to ever lose their opening match in a World Cup and then win the championship was Spain in 2010.