Lionel Messi lauds Argentina's 'strength of character' after securing World Cup final spot

PSG great led the way during 3-0 win over Croatia in the semi-final

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Lionel Messi praised Argentina’s intelligence and strength of character after he led his national team into the World Cup final.

Argentina, the South American champions, defeated Croatia 3-0 in the semi-final on Tuesday night, with Messi scoring once and assisting another to star at Lusail Stadium.

The goal from the penalty spot – the opener – lifted Messi alongside Kylian Mbappe as the tournament’s top scorer, while he was voted man of the match for the fourth time in six matches in Qatar.

Argentina, who in 1986 won the last of their two global titles, will now face either reigning champions France or Morocco in Sunday’s finals.

Speaking after booking his spot in a second World Cup final, Messi said: "This group has strength of character but is also so intelligent. We have a team that is capable of reading games, that knows how to suffer when they have to suffer.

“We have a great coaching staff who don't leave anything to chance. That helps because it means we always know what we need to do."

Messi, 35 and thought to be contesting his final World Cup, hailed Argentina’s ability to rebound from their shock opening defeat to Saudi Arabia last month. The Gulf side triumphed 2-1 at the same Lusail Stadium, ending Argentina’s long unbeaten run.

However, Lionel Scaloni’s men have won all five games since.

"I think the first match was a very tough blow for us because we had been 36 games unbeaten," Messi said. "To start in that way when nobody expected us to lose was a real test for this group of players. But we showed how strong we are.

"What we have done since then was really difficult because every game has been a final. We have played five finals, won them all, and let's hope we win the next one."

In scoring on Tuesday – Julian Alvarez got the other two, his second from Messi’s sublime run and assist – the Paris Saint-Germain forward became Argentina’s all-time leading goalscorer at the finals, with 11.

“Well, what I can say is that I am enjoying this a lot,” Messi said. “I am feeling really good.

"In the last game [the quarter-final against the Netherlands], we were taken to extra time, it was a big sacrifice, and today we were tired, but we seem to find strength where we have none.

“And, personally, I can say that I feel very happy in this whole World Cup. I am enjoying it a lot and luckily enough I am able to help my whole squad to make things happen.”

To his teammates, Messi said: "Argentina are, once again, in the World Cup final. Enjoy it.

"We've been through tough situations, other very good ones. Today we're experiencing something spectacular."

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Updated: December 14, 2022, 6:58 AM