Lusail, Dec 14 (IANS) Lionel Messi hailed Argentina’s coaching staff for masterminding his team’s 3-0 victory over Croatia in their FIFA World Cup semifinal here on Wednesday.
Messi scored from the penalty spot and gave the assist for Julian Alvarez’s second goal as Argentina set up a berth in Sunday’s final against either Morocco or defending champions France, Xinhua news agency reported.
“This group is very intelligent and knows how to suffer both with and without the ball,” Messi told reporters. “Our coaching staff is great, they pay attention to every little thing.”
Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni reverted to a 4-4-2 formation after adopting a 5-3-2 shape for the quarterfinal against the Netherlands, which the Albiceleste won on penalties.
The change allowed Argentina to thwart Croatia’s threat in midfield. While the 2018 runners-up controlled a 61% share of possession, they were suffocated for space and, when dispossessed, left large gaps for Argentina to exploit.
“They let us know about every detail and that helps us to know what to do in all situations,” Messi said.
“We know the game would be played that way. We knew they would have a lot of possession. But we also knew that it would play to our advantage because they were a little untidy and left us with lots of space.”
Messi’s strike saw him surpass Gabriel Batistuta as Argentina’s leading World Cup scorer with 11 goals.
In this tournament, he has five goals and three assists as he vies for the Golden Boot award with France’s Kylian Mbappe, who has five goals and two assists.
“I’m feeling well and strong in every match,” Messi said. “Personally, I’ve felt happy at this World Cup and thankfully, I’ve been able to help the team.”
Messi said Argentina’s 2-1 loss to Saudi Arabia in the opening match served as a wake-up call to the team.
“It was a big blow,” the Paris Saint-Germain forward said. “We had a 36-game unbeaten run and nobody thought we’d lose that match. It was an acid test and since then we’ve played five finals. Thankfully we’ve been able to win all five. Losing that first game actually helped us to grow.”