Lionel Scaloni was in tears after Lionel Messi inspired his Argentina side to the World Cup final with a 3-0 win over Croatia and said it is an “honour to train him”.
Messi scored and set up Julian Alvarez at the Lusail Iconic Stadium on Tuesday night to set up a monumental final against either France or Morocco on Sunday at the same venue.
The 35-year-old, whose five goals in Qatar can only be equalled by Paris Saint-Germain team-mate Kylian Mbappe, has given himself one last shot at winning the only trophy that evades him.
Scaloni, a team-mate of Messi with Argentina at the 2006 World Cup in Germany, says the seven time Ballon d’Or winner’s performances are driving the whole nation forward.
“I am honoured to train him and see him play,” said Argentina head coach Lionel Scaloni, who was in tears in the post-match celebrations.
“Every time you see him play, it’s a huge source of motivation for his team-mates, fans and the whole world.”
Neville: Messi on a mission
Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville says Messi is delivering when it counts at the World Cup in Qatar.
Messi’s lack of a World Cup trophy has been the only real criticism of the former Barcelona forward when it comes to the debate about the world’s greatest ever footballer, with Diego Maradona and Pele both having lifted the trophy.
Neville says Argentina’s set-up is allowing Messi to have the perfect platform to produce at the other end of the pitch.
“It does feel like a mission for him the World Cup, to him and the rest of his team,” Neville told ITV.
“They are so collective around him in terms of how they are playing. They are almost saying, ‘We are going to keep a clean sheet, we are going to be horrible to play against, we are going to do everything right and then he will win us the game’. And that’s what’s happening.
He added: “Argentina have got 10 fighters and a genius up front. They’ve got the best fans in the tournament as well. They’ve grown in the tournament.
“It’s a mission. One he [Messi] is delivering on his own at the moment.”
Messi: Saudi defeat made us stronger
Messi says Argentina’s shock opening game defeat to Saudi Arabia has made them stronger and praised the response of his team-mates.
The forward has also appeared to calm any fears about his fitness after he appeared to feel his hamstring at one point during Tuesday’s win over Croatia.
Speaking after the match, Messi said: “I am enjoying this a lot. I am feeling really good, I feel strong enough to face every match. The previous match was a big sacrifice.
“Today we were tired, but we pulled out strength to earn the victory. We played very well, we preferred to play this way because we knew they would not have the ball. We knew we would have to run. We prepared in a very good way.
“I feel very happy in this World Cup. I am able to help the squad.”
He added: “I would say the first match [the defeat against Saudi Arabia] was a hard blow because we had been unbeaten in six matches. To start in such a way in a World Cup, we did not think we would lose to Saudi Arabia.
“It was an acid test of the whole squad but we proved how strong we are. We won the other matches and it was very difficult what we did. Every match was a final and we were aware if we did not win things would be complicated for us.
“We have won five finals and I hope this is the case for the final on Sunday. We lost in the first match due to fine details but it helped us to be stronger.”
Can Messi end the GOAT debate?
Sky Sports’ Zinny Boswell:
For so long, the big question mark over Lionel Messi’s status as the GOAT has been his failure to win the World Cup.
Irrespective of his unparalleled achievements – seven Ballon d’Or titles, four Champions Leagues and even the Copa America win of two summers ago – it could always be said that he never managed to do what Diego Maradona could in 1986.
The extra-time defeat to Germany at the 2014 World Cup final in Brazil felt like it might be his last shot. The one that got away, perhaps.
But, at the ripe old age of 35, Messi has risen to the occasion for one last dance. He’s out to settle the debate once and for all.
It has not been without challenge, either. Remember, this all started with a defeat to Saudi Arabia in Argentina’s opening game 21 days ago. Rival fans were screaming, ‘Where’s Messi?!’ after that.
He’s in the final now.
Messi has scored in all three of Argentina’s knockout matches of this World Cup, leading them past Australia, the Netherlands and Croatia. No player has scored more than his five goals in Qatar.
The Paris Saint-Germain forward has timed this rich vein of form to perfection. His strike from the penalty spot was emphatic and his dribble for the third goal mesmeric. This is his moment.
Messi may stroll around the pitch, but he is unstoppable. A win on Sunday and he becomes eternal, indubitably.
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