Luka Modric signed off his World Cup career with the consolation prize of a Qatar 2022 bronze medal as Croatia beat Morocco 2-1 in the third-place match on Saturday.

Goals of real wonder from Josko Gvardiol and Mislav Orsic meant the runners-up from four years ago in Russia finished this campaign on a high, following the blow of losing to Argentina in the semi-finals.

Croatia are hopeful captain Modric, at the age of 37, will decide to play on and take part in their Euro 2024 campaign, but this was a World Cup farewell for the Real Madrid midfielder.

Gvardiol gave Croatia a seventh-minute lead at Khalifa International Stadium. Although Achraf Dari swiftly brought Morocco level, Orsic's brilliant finish just before half-time proved to be the match winner.

Gvardiol's goal was a super header into the left corner after Lovro Majer's free-kick into the penalty area was skilfully nodded towards the penalty spot by Ivan Perisic.

Morocco were level just 112 seconds minutes later, though, with Dari applying a close-range finish with his head after Hakim Ziyech's free-kick from the right flank was sent looping up by a heavy touch off Croatia's Majer.

Yassine Bounou had almost sliced a pass into his own net early on, but the Morocco goalkeeper was sharp enough to keep out a low strike from Modric. However, he was beaten in the 42nd minute by an exquisite finish from Orsic, who arced the ball over the goalkeeper from just inside the left edge of the penalty area, the shot going in off the far post.

A deflected Orsic strike from 20 yards rippled the side-netting early in the second half as Croatia searched for a third goal against the team that became Africa's first World Cup semi-finalists.

Gvardiol later wanted a penalty after going down under a challenge from Sofyan Amrabat, before Morocco had their big chance, with Youssef En-Nesyri denied from close range by Dominik Livakovic. They were left to settle for fourth, still a huge achievement.

Zlatko Dalic is optimistic Luka Modric will play for Croatia at Euro 2024.

Modric won the Ballon d'Or after leading Croatia to the World Cup final in Russia four years ago, and the Real Madrid star enjoyed another fine tournament as Dalic's men reached the final four in Qatar.

However, the 37-year-old was unable to inspire his team to a semi-final victory over Argentina on Tuesday, leading to suggestions he may retire from the international game.

Modric refused to give anything away regarding his future after the defeat, and Dalic is hopeful he will stay on for at least another 18 months.

"I hope that he [Modric] will be there [at Euro 2024]," Dalic said. "I am looking forward to it.

"It is not certain that he will there be and he will personally decide how he feels. I personally feel that he will be, but it ultimately is his decision."

Croatia started their World Cup campaign with a 0-0 draw against Morocco in Group F, and they face the African side again in Saturday's bronze-medal match.

Walid Regragui's outfit have been the surprise package of the tournament, with Dalic comparing their stunning run to Croatia's surge to the 2018 final.

"Morocco remind me of us four and a half years ago," he said. "Nobody expected them to be this high, but they got to where they are with their quality and emotions.

"From game to game, they only grew and I think we are in for a much more difficult match than the one from the opening group.

"We have full and great respect for them. They show unity and are not afraid of anyone."

Morocco captured the imagination of football fans around the world during their World Cup campaign, which saw them stun Belgium, Spain and Portugal.

They suffered a 2-0 defeat to France in the semi-final on Wednesday and boss Regragui is struggling to get excited about the third-place play-off.

"It is a little bit difficult," he said. "It is very complicated for both teams. You are so disappointed; you have just lost a semi-final and then two days later you have to go back out there.

"It is like the booby prize. I'm sorry for speaking like this. I understand it should be important, I understand it is better to finish third than fourth, but, for me, my takeaway is just that we didn't get to the final.

"Even if we did get to the final, and I finished second, I would be saying the same thing to you.

"We want to be as positive as possible, especially for our fans. Finishing third would be great for our image."

There is undoubtedly a perception the World Cup's third-place play-off is little more than an exhibition match – compared to the final, anyway.

But for Croatia and Morocco, Saturday's clash at the Khalifa International Stadium holds a great deal of significance regardless of what others might think.

Croatia were denied the chance to reach successive World Cup finals by Argentina, while Morocco put up an admirable fight against defending champions France in their 2-0 defeat.

But the fact Croatia – who clinched bronze at the 1998 World Cup – were in the 2018 final does not diminish the achievement of potentially finishing third here for coach Zlatko Dalic.

"We are sad and disappointed, but we have to gather energy to come back and be ready for the next fight for bronze," he said.

"The match on Saturday is a big final for us, not a small [game]. It's a big deal if we get the bronze.

"We have to refresh the team and put healthy players in the team because a grand final is ahead of us.

"Morocco is the biggest surprise of the World Cup. They've got national backing, unity, compactness. They knocked out Belgium, Spain and Portugal. They deserve all the respect."

Of course, these two tussled in a rather drab goalless group-stage draw, when Croatia were restricted to just five shots, their fewest ever in a World Cup game.

That encounter was something of a foreshadowing: Croatia have not been one of the tournament's great entertainers.

Morocco caused France plenty of problems and will fancy their chances of worrying Croatia on Saturday, particularly given Dalic's side have faced more shots (75) than any other team at the tournament.

The Atlas Lions have certainly benefited from a degree of pragmatism as well, with one more clean sheet enough for them to become only the eighth team in tournament history to keep five in one World Cup.

Of course, Walid Regragui insisted his team want to finish third, but there's also a degree of their job being done as the head coach acknowledged the gravity of their achievement in becoming Africa's first World Cup semi-finalists

"I will give opportunities to those who did not participate, and we will try to clinch the third place," Regragui told reporters.

"We realise that we made a great achievement already. We know that from the media, social media, and on TV, we saw the pictures, and we saw that everyone was proud of us in our country.

"We're disappointed for the Moroccan people, we wanted to keep the dream alive, but we're pleased with what we've achieved.

"We felt that we could have gone even further but these small details help real champions, which we saw [against France], of course.

"My players gave everything and they've gone as far as they could. I really wanted to rewrite the history books, but you can't win a World Cup with miracles, you need to do it through hard work."


Croatia – Mateo Kovacic

Dalic is expected to make a few changes: Marcelo Brozovic is an injury doubt; Luka Modric could be given a breather. All three of their regular midfield probably won't come out of the side, meaning Kovacic is surely the likeliest to start.

Kovacic was one of Croatia's better players against Argentina, with his physicality and ball carrying standing out as the Valtreni tried to cope with the feisty Argentinians. He attempted six dribbles, completing four, and engaged in 15 duels, winning 10 – all of those were highs for his team.


Morocco – Azzedine Ounahi

Again, Regragui will alter his team a bit, so it is difficult to know who's going to play, but all the neutrals will be hoping to get another glimpse of Ounahi.

An elegant central midfielder, the 22-year-old has been one of the tournament's breakthrough stars, with his composure in possession really making him stand out. He has completed 77 per cent of his take-on attempts in the World Cup (10/13), which is the highest rate of any player to try at least 10.



Morocco's win probability of 30.9 per cent for this is a reasonable increase on the 24.8 per cent Stats Perform's AI model gave them ahead of the matchday one meeting.

Nevertheless, Croatia remain the favourites, with the supercomputer putting their win likelihood at 43.1 per cent.

The draw is rated at 26 per cent, but it's worth noting that none of the 19 previous third place play-off matches at the World Cup have gone to penalties, while only one has been settled in extra time (France v Belgium in 1986).

Josko Gvardiol will take pride in having faced "the best player in history", even if Lionel Messi went to another level in an Argentina shirt to humiliate the Croatia defender.

Gvardiol and Messi have been two of the stars of the 2022 World Cup and came face to face in the semi-finals.

But it was a battle Messi won emphatically, scoring one goal and creating another in a 3-0 Argentina win.

It was the assist that garnered most attention as Messi took on Gvardiol, beating him twice before cutting the ball back for Julian Alvarez.

Gvardiol was on the wrong end of one of the moments of the finals, but he was still delighted to be able to play Messi.

"I have already played against him, but he plays differently than with his club," Gvardiol said.

"It's a great experience, and one day I'll tell my kids that I played against the best player in history."

Messi has seemingly confirmed this will be his last World Cup, as he attempts to lead Argentina past France in Sunday's final, and the same is expected of 37-year-old Croatia midfielder Luka Modric.

But Andrej Kramaric, speaking alongside RB Leipzig player Gvardiol, is not so sure Modric is ready to quit the international game.

"We all know how many nice words were written about Luka and what he did not only for Croatia but the whole world," Kramaric said. "Knowing him, I'm not sure that this is his last.

"Age comes for everyone, including for him, but he will remain immortal for the whole world. He makes everything easier and simpler, which is difficult."

Croatia forward Andrej Kramaric has dismissed the idea Saturday's third-place playoff with Morocco is an empty contest, suggesting the winner will become "immortal".

The two teams will meet at Khalifa International Stadium following their respective semi-final defeats to Argentina and France.

For Zlatko Dalic's side, they fell short of a second successive final, having been beaten by Les Bleus at Russia 2018, while Walid Regragui's men saw their underdog story come up short of the showpiece game as well.

But Kramaric says there will be no short-changing their bronze-medal match despite their heartbreak, arguing the winner stakes a place in history and becomes entrenched in sporting folklore.

"I think if you ask this question to Moroccan players, I don't think they will look that way," he said

"They're fighting for their lives because if you win a medal at a World Cup you become an immortal hero in your country. That's the same thing we are going to do.

"Eight of us from [the tournament in] Russia understand that feeling of winning a medal at the World Cup.

"We have a lot of players who haven't experienced that and would love to do that because it's something that will stay with you for the rest of their life."

Croatia – whose prior best performance in a World Cup had been third at France 1998 before Russia – are looking to claim a third tournament medal in their history.

For Morocco, regardless of their result, they will already go down as the greatest World Cup side in African history, having become the first from the continent to make the semi-finals.

Luka Modric opting to retire from international duty would be "a pity" for all football fans, according to Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic, who hopes the midfielder will continue with his team.

Modric won the Ballon d'Or after leading Croatia to the World Cup final in Russia four years ago, and the Real Madrid star enjoyed another fine tournament as Dalic's men reached the final four in Qatar.

However, the 37-year-old was unable to inspire his team to a semi-final victory over Argentina on Tuesday, leading to suggestions he may call time on his international career.

Modric refused to give anything away regarding his future after Tuesday's defeat, but Dalic hopes his captain will still be available after Saturday's bronze medal match. 

"He was very disappointed yesterday, the defeat and the game were hard on him," Dalic told reporters on Wednesday. "It's logical that he feels that way, it was really hard for him. 

"Our concentration is on the game on Saturday, we haven't talked about that [retirement]. We have to prepare for that game. 

"I hope he stays in the national team. Of course, he will decide himself. We have a game on Saturday and we'll talk after that.

"If Luka says goodbye to the national team, it will be a pity and regret for all the fans around the world. He showed so much good football, but he also proved to be a top professional. 

"When he wins and when he loses, he behaves like a true professional. It is difficult for him, and he will make his own decision. 

"It will be difficult for me, too, if he decides otherwise. The whole world respects Modric. It would be nice if he continued."

Although Modric criticised referee Daniele Orsato for awarding Argentina's Julian Alvarez a first-half penalty in Croatia's defeat, he also expressed his hope that Albiceleste great Lionel Messi goes on to lift the trophy.

Dalic believes that gesture demonstrated Modric's class. 

"The most difficult thing is to remain dignified in defeat. It shows the greatness of Luka Modric to congratulate them all, and it is difficult for him, as well as for all our players," Dalic added.

"That gesture shows that we are big. When the French bowed to us in Moscow, that's a gesture that makes you happy. Croatia is still worth something in world football."

Dalic outlined his intention to remain in charge of Croatia after Tuesday's loss, with their Euro 2024 qualification campaign set to begin against Wales on March 25.

Lionel Messi deserves to lift the World Cup and will lead Argentina to glory in Sunday's final, according to Brazil's 2002 champion Rivaldo.

Messi produced another remarkable performance as Argentina beat Croatia 3-0 in Tuesday's semi-final, opening the scoring from the penalty spot before laying on a goal for Julian Alvarez after a fine solo run.

On the day he equalled Lothar Matthaus' all-time record of 25 World Cup appearances, Messi became the first player to score and assist in four games at the competition.

Messi's 11th World Cup goal also made him the Albiceleste's record goalscorer at the tournament, and with Brazil having fallen at the quarter-final stage, Rivaldo hopes Messi captures the trophy.

"We no longer have Brazil or Neymar in this cup final, so I'll stay with Argentina. No words for you Leo Messi," Rivaldo wrote on Instagram.

"You already deserved to be world champion before, but God knows all things and will crown you this Sunday. 

"You deserve this title for the person you are and for the wonderful football you always played. Hats off to you. God bless you."

Messi's penalty on Tuesday also made him the first Argentina player to score in five games at a single World Cup, with Poland the only side to prevent him from netting in Qatar. 

Taking to Instagram after the win, Messi wrote: "We came back to gain strength to play another great match. 

"Thank you very much to everyone who trusted this group! Come on Argentina!"

Lionel Messi will be fit and raring to go for Argentina in Sunday's World Cup final, team-mate Emiliano Martinez has said.

Paris Saint-Germain superstar Messi was in sensational form as La Albiceleste defeated Croatia 3-0 in Tuesday's semi-final in Qatar, scoring the opener from the penalty spot and assisting Julian Alvarez's second after a dizzying run.

There were some concerns for Argentina supporters when Messi clutched at his hamstring during the early stages of the contest.

But goalkeeper Martinez is confident it was just the toll of accumulated minutes, with Argentina having required extra time and penalties to defeat the Netherlands in the quarter-finals.

"No, no [he's not injured]," Martinez said.

"We played 120 minutes against Holland, it was a hard game for him, but you can see he wants to finish every game. Physically he's really good and he's man of the match every game."


Argentina's run to the final was fraught with difficulty after they were stunningly beaten by Saudi Arabia in their opening group game.

Indeed, it needed some genius from Messi to inspire a 2-0 win over Mexico in their following match, a result that sparked Lionel Scaloni's men into life in Qatar.

Martinez is of the opinion everyone outside of Argentina wanted to see them fail in that fixture.

"I can't believe it we lost the first game all of sudden everything was upside down we lost the 36-game unbeaten run," the Aston Villa keeper added.

"Mexico the first half was a bit sloppy everyone wanted us to lose, everyone wanted us to lose. We're all fighters and we've got 45million Argentinians all behind us.

"We feel the crowd on the streets every time we play we feel like we are at home we are so happy to have them."

Argentina will face the victor of the semi-final, which pits defending champions France against surprise package Morocco.

Martinez has no preference over who they face in the showpiece fixture.

"They both had an incredible run they both different teams both really whoever comes it's a World Cup final and know it's going to be hard," he said.

Argentina captain Lionel Messi confirmed that Sunday's final against Morocco or France will be his last World Cup appearance as he seeks to bow out in style.

The 35-year-old played a leading role in Argentina's 3-0 semi-final win over Croatia with a goal and an assist.

Messi, a seven-time Ballon d'Or winner, had previously indicated this would be his last World Cup finals, which he reinforced after Tuesday's triumph.

"I am proud to be able to finish my World Cup journey playing this final," Messi told reporters. "What I'm experiencing is exciting. Sunday will be my last game in a World Cup.

"It will be many years before the next one [2026] and I don't think I'll be able to make it, so I hope I can finish in the best way."

Messi's goal against Croatia meant he became his country's all-time leading scorer at World Cups, with his 11th strike seeing him move past Gabriel Batistuta.

The goal was also Messi's 16th for Argentina in 2022, the most international strikes of any calendar year across his entire career.

"I'm enjoying it all very much," Messi said about the 2022 World Cup. "I feel good. I feel strong to face every game. We have been making a big sacrifice.

"The last game we played was with extra time. That was not easy at all. We were tired, but the group got strength. We played a very important game. We knew it was going to be the match it was.

"I'm very happy. Throughout this World Cup I've been having a lot of fun and, luckily, I was able to help the group to get things done."

Messi will be gunning for the ultimate crowning glory with his maiden World Cup title on Sunday, having played in 2014 when La Albiceleste were runners-up.

Argentina are into their sixth World Cup final, with only Germany (eight) having reached more in the competition.

Luis Suarez has hailed "best in the world" Lionel Messi after his former Barcelona teammate helped Argentina qualify for the 2022 World Cup final.

Messi opened the scoring from the penalty spot in the 34th minute and set up Julian Alvarez's second goal in the 69th minute to round out an impressive 3-0 victory over Croatia on Tuesday.

The seven-time Ballon d'Or winner now has a shot at his first World Cup title, and Argentina's first since Diego Maradona led them to glory in 1986, with Messi having been a runner-up in 2014 when Germany edged La Albiceleste 1-0 in Rio de Janeiro.

"You never get tired of showing that you are the best in the world," Suarez, who spent six years with Messi at Barcelona from 2014 to 2020, wrote on Instagram.

"The whole world stops to applaud this guy and what he's given to football. Incredible my friend!"

Vanquished Croatia midfielder Luka Modric, who was a long-time adversary of Messi with Real Madrid in La Liga, said the Argentinian deserves to lift the World Cup.

"Hopefully [Messi] wins this World Cup, he is the best player in history and he deserves it," Modric told reporters after the game.

Argentina will play the final on Sunday against either reigning world champions France or Morocco, who will meet at Al Bayt Stadium in the second semi-final on Wednesday.

Lionel Messi is the walking proof that you can't keep a good man down as he heads for another World Cup final, according to Argentina team-mate Cristian Romero.

Eight years since Messi and Argentina were left heartbroken by defeat to Germany at the Maracana in Rio de Janeiro, another shot at football's greatest prize awaits on Sunday.

The Albiceleste coasted to a 3-0 semi-final victory over Croatia on Tuesday, with Messi's penalty followed by a Julian Alvarez double.

Messi was typically excellent, setting up Alvarez's second goal by dancing past Josko Gvardiol, and it will be the captain to whom Argentina look for inspiration in the final against France or Morocco.

At the age of 35, the Paris Saint-Germain forward could be about to experience his career's crowning glory.

Defender Romero said: "Leo's of course a wonderful player, but more than that he's a reference and he's somebody who is a personality, who is always going for more.

"He's been hit so many times and every time he gets back up again and goes for more and he has the strength to do that. He won a Copa America, he's a benchmark like others, [Angel] Di María, Kun [Sergio Aguero], who is no longer here."

Messi has matched the record of the most appearances in World Cups, the 25 previously held alone by Lothar Matthaus.

He is also now Argentina's record World Cup scorer with 11 goals, one more than Gabriel Batistuta.

Having such a figure as the seven-time Ballon d'Or winner in the ranks is inevitably uplifting for Argentina, who are seeking their first World Cup triumph since 1986 when the similarly inspirational Diego Maradona was pulling the strings.

Romero added: "You put your life into this, to bring the trophy home. We're here to deliver. It was shown once again that we are lions. No matter what happens on Sunday, we are going to give all we've got to bring the cup home."

Zlatko Dalic conceded Lionel Messi had produced the performance Croatia "expected to see" after the Argentina great ended their World Cup dream.

Messi played a starring role in denying Dalic's side a second successive final appearance, scoring and providing an assist as the Albiceleste enjoyed a 3-0 victory in Tuesday's semi-final.

The Paris Saint-Germain forward's heroics did not come as a great surprise to the Croatia head coach, who plans to remain in charge of the team until his contract expires in 2024.

However, Dalic acknowledges several players from this generation will not be available by the 2026 finals, with his 37-year-old captain Luka Modric likely to be among them.

"Nothing much needs to be said about Messi's qualities," he said. "In the past 15 years, he's probably the best player in the world, and today again, he was very good and dangerous.

"He made the difference in quality for the Argentina team. He had this explosiveness and technique at a very high-level performance. It's the true Messi we expected to see.

"This is perhaps the end of this generation in World Cups, a couple of them have reached an age and the World Cup in 2026 – we have to wait and see what happens then.

"We've had great achievements for the Croatia national team, and a lot of players with a lot of potential.

"I believe this generation will finish their careers with Euro 2024. We have the Nations League finals, and it's an excellent generation that reached the semi-finals twice in a row. 

"It would have been great to have won the gold medal to crown this generation."

When asked if he would remain at the helm, Dalic added: "I will continue my contract until 2024 and the European Championships and, in six months, we have the Nations League [finals].

"Then, we have the qualification for the World Cup. My plan and objective is to take Croatia to Euro 2024."


Mateo Kovacic believes two "cardinal mistakes" from referee Daniele Orsato cost Croatia in Tuesday's World Cup semi-final defeat against Argentina.

Croatia's bid to reach a second consecutive World Cup final came to an end as Lionel Messi and Julian Alvarez starred at Lusail Stadium, with the latter scoring twice in Argentina's 3-0 win.

Messi opened the scoring from the penalty spot after Alvarez collided with goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic, and Kovacic was booked for dissent as several Croatia players protested the decision.

Less than a minute before Livakovic's foul, Croatia were denied a corner when Ivan Perisic's deflected shot looped onto the roof of Emiliano Martinez's net, leaving Kovacic in disbelief. 

"I can't believe it's not a corner," the Chelsea midfielder told reporters after the game. "Then the penalty... 

"I have never commented on the referees nor is it my intention to do so, but these are two cardinal mistakes, and they cost you."

Kovacic's midfield partner Luka Modric concurred, insisting Croatia were in the ascendency before the penalty was awarded.

"The first goal, it was not a penalty, that's my opinion. It stressed us a little bit. Half a minute before that it was supposed to be a corner and we were not awarded one," he said.

"I think after the penalty, it changed the whole match. Before the penalty, we were the ones controlling the game. 

"Maybe we were not so dangerous in front of their goal, but we were the ones in possession, controlling the ball. 

"Unfortunately the penalty changed everything, a penalty I'd never have called in this match. I'm so upset they called this type of penalty against us."

However, Modric did acknowledge Argentina were deserved victors, adding: "We lost the game, that happens. We just have to congratulate Argentina. They were the better team today, they for sure deserved it more than us."

Meanwhile, Kovacic credited Messi for another outstanding performance as the 35-year-old became the first player to both score and assist in four separate World Cup games.

Messi teed up Alvarez for his second goal after beating Josko Gvardiol twice in the same move, while the Manchester City forward's first strike came at the end of his own impressive solo run.

"We knew they were aggressive and good and that they had Messi," Kovacic said. "He was phenomenal and should be congratulated.

"Those two situations are incredible, we conceded two ridiculous goals."

Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni has "no doubt" Lionel Messi is the greatest player of all time after inspiring La Albiceleste's progression to the World Cup final.

Messi was in irresistible form on Tuesday at Lusail Stadium, playing a key role in all three goals as Argentina beat Croatia 3-0 in Qatar 2022's first semi-final.

He opened the scoring from the spot in the first half after Julian Alvarez was fouled by Dominik Livakovic and then released his strike partner in the build-up to him making it 2-0.

But the best was yet to come.

With 21 minutes to go, Messi embarked on a tremendous run up the right flank as he darted past Josko Gvardiol before then beating the defender again on the outside and eventually cutting back to Alvarez for a simple finish.

Messi became the first player to both score and assist in four separate World Cup matches (since 1966), while his penalty saw the 35-year-old become Argentina's all-time leading scorer in the tournament with 11 goals.

For some, Messi's claim to the 'greatest player of all time' title rides on him winning the World Cup, but not for Scaloni.

He told reporters: "Whether Messi is the greatest player of all time… sometimes as Argentinians it of course looks like we say that just because we are Argentinian.

"Maybe it's selfish. I don't have any doubt saying that: he is the best in history.

"I have the privilege. I am honoured to train him and see him play. It's something exciting because every time you see him play, it's a huge source of motivation for his team-mates, the people, the whole world.


"So there is nothing left to say about Messi. It's indeed a privilege to have him in the squad."

While Messi is of course the headline act and the focus for many, Alvarez more than played his part on Tuesday.

His goals will lead to praise, but Scaloni was keen to highlight how important his general work rate and industriousness were for the team effort.

"The match of Julian was excellent, not just because of his two goals, but because he was extremely helpful with the midfielders," Scaloni explained.

"Sometimes we had two midfielders because the others had to cover other players, they had to cover the flanks, and he showcased excellent football [intelligence].

"With his age, [his work ethic] is normal because he wants to give everything on the pitch. What you say to him, he shows it on the pitch.

"We are very happy with him because he was able to score goals, which is something great especially for a striker like him."

Scaloni will emulate some legendary figures of Argentinian football in Cesar Luis Menotti, Carlos Bilardo and Alejandro Sabella by coaching the Albiceleste in the World Cup final.

But he still does not feel worthy of being considered on their level.

"Yes, to reach the final is amazing, but I can't make comparisons with these three names because they are history in the national team," he added.

"They've defended these colours. They made Argentina a great nation. Yes, it's a great source of pride for me to be able to play a final and represent my country.

"But I can't rise to this perch because they made history in the world of football, not only in Argentina.

"For me, just to coach this final is a huge privilege."

Argentina will play the final on Sunday against either France or Morocco, who will tussle at Al Bayt Stadium in the second semi-final on Wednesday.

Lionel Messi hailed Argentina's resilience after his majestic display against Croatia ensured a World Cup that began with defeat to Saudi Arabia could end in glory.

Messi recorded a goal and an assist as Argentina posted a 3-0 win over Croatia at Lusail Stadium on Tuesday to reach their sixth World Cup final – a tally only bettered by Germany (eight).

Having opened the scoring from the penalty spot in the first half, Messi rolled back the years with a remarkable assist as Julian Alvarez completed his brace after the break, beating Josko Gvardiol twice before teeing up a simple finish for the Manchester City forward.

Messi now has the chance to cap his incredible career by lifting football's biggest prize, a prospect that appeared unlikely when Argentina lost their Group C opener three weeks ago.

The 35-year-old reflected on that surprise defeat after Tuesday's victory, saying Argentina channelled their disappointment to rescue their tournament.

"I'd say the first game was a hard blow for all of us because we had been unbeaten in 36 matches. To start it like that was a hard blow," Messi said in a post-match press conference.

"We didn't think we'd lose to Saudi. It was an acid test, but we've shown how strong we are.

"It was very difficult what we did, because every match has been a final and this brings a mental load. We were aware if we didn't win then everything would be more complicated. 

"We've played five finals and, luckily enough, been able to win them. I hope this will be the same for the final. Internally we were confident we'd make it as we know what we are capable of. 

"Yes, we lost the first match because of fine details, but that helped us to be stronger and to grow in the tournament and internally as a squad."


Croatia bested Argentina's rivals Brazil in a tense penalty shoot-out in the previous round, but Messi felt the Albiceleste's intelligence and willingness to "suffer" was the key against experienced opponents.

"I would say this squad, beyond the collective strengths, is very intelligent and wise, we know how to read the game and every moment," Messi said.

"It's something the coach said before, it's a very intelligent squad. We know when to suffer, when to press. We know how to read the games, we know what to do in every moment, how to win." 

Messi has now recorded eight goal involvements (five goals, three assists) in Qatar, moving ahead of Kylian Mbappe (five goals, two assists) prior to France's semi-final meeting with Morocco, and he is enjoying every minute of the campaign.

"Well, what I can say is I'm enjoying this a lot, I'm feeling really good, I feel strong enough to face every match," Messi added.

"The previous game was a big sacrifice, it went to extra time, that wasn't easy. Today we're tired, but we pooled our strengths to earn this victory.  

"Personally, I can say I feel very happy in this whole World Cup, I'm enjoying it a lot, and luckily I am able to help the whole squad make things happen."

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