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Argentina and the FIFA World Cup semi-finals: a never-ending love story

For the fifth time in history, Argentina found themselves playing in the semi-finals of the FIFA World Cup, when they took on the pitch of the Lusail Iconic Stadium against Croatia. For the fifth time in history, the South American side delivered an iconic performance to qualify for the final, with a 3-0 win that will surely be remembered as an epic game, one in which Lionel Messi shined and delivered what was expected of him.

For the fifth time in history, Argentina will now fight for the big trophy, 92 years removed from their first-ever final, which they lost against hosts Uruguay, in one of the few all-South American finals in the history of the world football flagship competition.

It looks like a never-ending love story between Argentina and the penultimate act of the competition at the FIFA World Cup, where the players of the South American powerhouse motivate themselves to deliver excellent games, going one step closer sealing their dream.

And it looks like history repeats itself, like many times in football. In 1986, when “La Albiceleste” secured the title, it was Diego Maradona, a godlike figure in Argentina, who scored a brace against Belgium, to help Argentina deliver a 2-0 win over the “Diables Rouges”.

Four years later, Argentina won on penalties against hosts Italy, to set up a final against Germany, which they lost after a heart-breaking penalty converted by defender Andreas Brehme, in the 85th minute.

Between 1990 and 2014, Argentina have never reached the semi-finals of the FIFA World Cup, but at Brazil 2014, in front of the fans of their big rivals, Brazil, they delivered another win in a penalty shoot-out against the Netherlands, 4-2, with Lionel Messi converting one, just like Diego Maradona in 1990, to help carry his side in the final.

Both in 1990 and 2014, Argentina lost the finals against Germany with the same score line, 0-1. This time around, they will not face Germany, and this time around this final seems like a totally different proposition.

This is an Argentina team playing like a team possessed, with everybody trying their best to help Lionel Messi deliver one final push for the title that eluded him throughout his career, one final push for Messi to win the FIFA World Cup for the first time in his career.

Messi himself stressed that this will be the final edition of the FIFA World Cup for him. After a 1-2 loss against Saudi Arabia in the first match of Qatar 2022, it looked like everything was unravelling for Argentina. That loss, three weeks ago, looks like a distant memory. Since then, Argentina won against Mexico and Poland in the group phase, 2-0, Australia in the Round of 16, 2-1, and Netherlands on penalties in the quarter-final, before dismantling Croatia, 3-0.

“I am very happy for finishing my journey in World Cups in a final, to play the last game in a final. That is really very gratifying. Everything I lived in this World Cup has been emotional, seeing how much it has been enjoyed in Argentina. There are a lot of years from this year to the next one. I don’t think I will be able to do that. To finish this way is brilliant,” said Messi after the 3-0 win against Croatia.

Messi had retired from international football in June 2016, before coming back to play due to critics analysing his game and questioning his commitment to Argentina. Last year, he won the Copa America with the national team, the first major international trophy with the national team.

Now, he tied the record for the largest number of appearances at the FIFA World Cup, 25, tying Lothar Matthaus, and became the best-ever scorer for Argentina in the competition, with 11 goals, beating the previous mark of Gabriel Batistuta, who had 10.

“It’s a dream. I have always dreamed of playing with Messi, since I was a child, and today I am fulfilling it. I am very happy for the whole group, they deserved it. Now we have to rest and think about the final,” said Argentina’s midfielder, Enzo Fernandez, a key player for the South American side, who assisted Julian Alvarez, as the Manchester City striker got a penalty, after being fouled in the box by Croatia goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic.

It was the start of a vintage game for Argentina, where Messi scored once and assisted the other two goals, their fifth win in five semi-finals at the FIFA World Cup.

Six days later, Argentina will tremble with emotion not only for Messi’s last game at the World Cup, but also for their sixth final in history – the 1978 FIFA World Cup had no semi-finals. Here, the South American side’s record is not as unblemished as in the semi-finals, winning only twice in five tries.

Eventually, Messi and Argentina will be judged by the trophy or the lack thereof. Yet what’s sure is that they captured the mind of a country and delivered an excellent performance. That will surely count.

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