World Cup 2022 LIVE: Lionel Messi targets place in history after inspiring Argentina to Qatar final


Messi magic seals Argentina’s place in World Cup final after beating Croatia

Lionel Messi beamed with pride after his magical display inspired Argentina to a resounding victory against Croatia and secured their place in the World Cup final.

One of the greatest players in football history, the 35-year-old put in a man-of-the-match display in Tuesday’s Lusail Stadium semi-final against the 2018 runners-up.

Messi converted a first-half spot-kick and watched Julian Alvarez end a strong solo run with a cool finish, before the skipper showed incredible nous and skill to tee up the Manchester City forward to wrap up a 3-0 win. Argentina will return to Lusail to face France or Morocco on Sunday, when their captain can crown a glittering career with glory in what looks set to be his last appearance on the world stage.

“Well, what I can say is that I am enjoying this a lot,” 35-year-old Messi said with a smile. “I am feeling really good. This is what we’ve been doing in every match. The previous match was a big sacrifice and we went into extra time. That wasn’t easy. Today we were tired but we pulled our strengths to earn this victory.”

Follow updates on the build-up to the World Cup semi-finals and all the latest news from Qatar 2022 below:


How Antoine Griezmann reinvented himself as France’s midfield conductor

By Lawrence Ostlere in Doha

Until October, Atletico Madrid used Griezmann for a maximum of 29 minutes per match. His loan contract dictated that if he made a certain number of 30-minute appearances then Atletico would owe his parent club Barcelona €40m, and they didn’t fancy paying up. So, before the dispute was resolved, Griezmann’s season began with precise bursts from the bench.

Arriving at the World Cup, his minutes this season read: 28, 28, 26, 27, 29, 27, 27, 90, 29, 90, 65, 90, 90, 90, 76, 90, 30, 90, 73, 90, 90.

If French medical staff were to design a plan for a 31-year-old midfielder going into a mid-season World Cup, you can imagine it would look something like this, gently simmering before bringing him to the boil.

By way of comparison, Harry Kane was cooked by Tottenham manager Antonio Conte. Kane started all of Tottenham’s 23 pre-World Cup games and finished 21 of those, totaling almost 2,000 minutes compared to Griezmann’s 1,264. Few players arrived in Qatar with as many miles on the clock as the England captain.

Kieran Jackson14 December 2022 11:15


Argentina boss Lionel Scaloni insists it’s a ‘privilege’ to have Lionel Messi in his team

Argentina boss Lionel Scaloni insists it is a “privilege” to have Lionel Messi in his team after his stunning performnace against Croatia on Tuesday.

On Messi: “Every time he plays it’s a huge source of motivation for his teammates. There’s nothing left to say about Messi, it’s a privilege to have him.”

On taking his side to the final, he added: “It’s difficult to put this in words. This is what I’ve always dreamed of as an Argentinean. It is emotional and our people support us in a way which is unforgettable. We are making history.

“We’re celebrating because it’s something very exciting, but there’s still a step left. It’s a time to enjoy, but we already have to think about what’s to come.”

“This is a very wise squad. We know what to do in every second of the game. We knew the Croatians would have the ball possession but we knew this could be our strength. Sometimes they are disordered when they lose the ball and they left many spaces.”


Kieran Jackson14 December 2022 10:59


Croatia depart as they progressed throughout the World Cup, controlled, calculated and with no cutting edge

By Mark Critchley in Doha

Take possession, take control. That has been the maxim that Croatian football has lived by, nine-tenths of the law that this improbably golden generation of players has built their unlikely success upon. But more like six-tenths, to be precise. This is a percentage game, you see, and quite literally so. If Luka Modric, Marcelo Brozovic and Mateo Kovacic have and hold the ball 60 per cent of the time or more, their opponents can only pick at and pierce through their teammates 40 per cent of the time or less.

It is a fair calculation, one that produces moments of truly masterful midfield play between a Croatian triumvirate that are arguably the best practitioners of possession play since Barcelona’s class of 2011. They find the points, lines and angles to keep what they believe is rightfully theirs, almost playing a game of their own to themselves. “When you pass them the ball it is safer than having your money in the bank,” says left-back Borna Sosa. It was a nice metaphor. But every so often, a bank goes bust.

Aesthetically pleasing it may be, but the mistake that an over-commitment to this approach makes is believing that possession equals control, when in fact it can only ever offer a close approximation. There are other percentage plays to make, other bets to take, ones that have a higher upside if they come off.

And crucially, there is a difference between having the ball and controlling a game. It is in those margins that such games against sides like Croatia are won and lost.

On their way to this World Cup 2022 semi-final, they fell on the right side of them. The nature of tournament football dictates that any team to reach this late stage has a slice of fortune along the way but Zlatko Dalic and his players have scoffed most of the cake. Even before the penalty shoot-out victories over Japan and Brazil in this knockout stage, there was Romelu Lukaku’s catalogue of misses as Belgium’s own golden generation crashed out. Had he scored any one of them, Croatia would have instead left early.

Kieran Jackson14 December 2022 10:49


France vs Morocco referee: Who is World Cup 2022 official Cesar Ramos?

Mexican referee Cesar Ramos is in charge of Wednesday’s World Cup semi-final between France and Morocco at the Al Bayt Stadium in Qatar.

Ramos has already officiated a game involving Morocco at this tournament, namely their 2-0 Group F win against Belgium, which put them on the cusp of qualification for the knockout-stages. The 38-year-old handed out two bookings in that match – one to each side.

Ramos also oversaw Portugal’s last-16 thrashing of Switzerland and Denmark’s group-stage draw with Tunisia. He has issued seven yellow cards across his three fixtures as a referee in Qatar, for an average of 2.3 a game.

The Mexican was the only referee from his country at the 2018 World Cup, and he officiated the 2017 Club World Cup final between Real Madrid and Gremio.

Kieran Jackson14 December 2022 10:29


By Richard Jolly in Qatar

Didier Deschamps was discussing the secret of his success. “There is no secret,” he said, providing the kind of answer to explain why someone who, in a few days’ time, could rank as the joint most successful manager in the history of the World Cup is rarely seen as any kind of coaching genius.

An understated figure has assessed a formidable CV while remaining relatively unheralded. Only two men have manager World Cup-winning sides, captained World Cup-winning teams, European Championship-winning and Champions League-winning teams: Franz Beckenbauer and Deschamps. The Frenchman was one of the first to win the European Cup with two clubs as a player; as a coach, he has taken Monaco to the final, an achievement that has stood the test of time, and France to the Euro 2016 final.

He has won the Nations League, which may or may not acquire more meaning in time. Now he could join Vittorio Pozzo, Italy’s coach in 1934 and 1938, as the only two-time World Cup-winning manager.

Is Deschamps an all-time great or a man who was in the right place at the right time? Both, perhaps. One of his closest allies, his captain for a decade, Hugo Lloris offered some insight. “He has of course tremendous experience as a player and a coach at international level,” the goalkeeper said. “He is calm and collected and transmits that to the players. He is an inspiration to the players. We have a great relationship between players and coach and it is not a coincidence he has been a coach for such a long time.”

Kieran Jackson14 December 2022 10:11


Is Gareth Southgate the right manager to turn exciting England into champions?

As Gareth Southgate boarded the flight from Doha on Sunday morning, he genuinely had no idea whether this was his last duty as England manager. He admitted in the immediate aftermath of the France defeat that he is “conflicted”. What was particularly striking was how he stated the boos at Molineux during the 4-0 defeat to Hungary earlier this year had got to him, and how he has found much of the last 18 months “difficult”.

Some who know Southgate now firmly believe he will go, that his “energy” for the job is at its limit.

It is why he doesn’t want to make any decision over the next few days. Southgate knows that would be a mistake, and potentially lead to a “wrong call”. He instead wants to come back with a clear mind, and talk things through fully and rationally with the FA.

There is one thoroughly logical reason to stay. This squad is young yet experienced, and could well be in its proper prime by Euro 2024. It is tantalising. Players like Phil Foden, Bukayo Saka and Jude Bellingham will be even more rounded than they are now, a tournament in Qatar where everyone among the England staff was so struck by the psychological leap they’d made since even Euro 2020.

The team are now so close, which even this defeat illustrated.

Kieran Jackson14 December 2022 10:00


‘Everybody wanted us to lose’: Emi Martinez hails Argentina run to World Cup final

The Aston Villa goalkeeper, who has been outspoken throughout the tournament in Qatar, kept another clean sheet at the Lusail Stadium.

Lionel Messi’s penalty and a double from Julian Alvarez was enough to book a place in Sunday’s final against the winner of France vs Morocco, with Martinez claiming there is a siege mentality in the Albiceleste’s group.

“I can’t believe it, we lost the first game and everything was upside down,” Martinez told beIN SPORTS. “People were doubting us, we lost the unbeaten run. Against Mexico in the first half it was sloppy. Everybody wanted us to lose, it’s us against the rest of the world.

“It’s just amazing, we feel the crowd on the streets, every time we play we feel like we are at home. We’re so happy to have them here.”

Kieran Jackson14 December 2022 09:45


Luka Modric denied final masterpiece but departs World Cup stage with his greatness secured

By Richard Jolly in Qatar

His final contribution brought the ultimate indignity. The byword for precision was smacked in the face by his own shot. Admittedly, it ricocheted back off Alexis Mac Allister and there was little Luka Modric could do about it. The winner of the Golden Ball in the last World Cup nevertheless ended up with the ball in his face in this.

And that, bar a third-place play-off, was Modric’s final involvement on this stage. His number went up seconds after; in effect, the white flag had been raised with it. When the captain came off, it was all over for Croatia. They were 3-0 down. He had wrested back control of one World Cup semi-final, his every pass asserting control with a trademark blend of elegance and intelligence, but that was four years ago against England. There was no repeat. Modric can feel timeless, but his time is up in World Cups.

They all knew it, the Argentina fans who joined in the ovation when Lovro Majer replaced him, his former Real Madrid team-mate Angel Di Maria, who sought him out after the final whistle, the now retired Sergio Aguero who came to offer his condolences in the tunnel. Argentina had been graceless winners against the Netherlands in the quarter-final; when it came to Modric, however, they recognised greatness.

Perhaps it was the parallel with Lionel Messi, with the other old-timer in his final World Cup; flip the result and others would have commiserated with him. One way or another, sadness was a certainty.

Kieran Jackson14 December 2022 09:27


Lionel Messi takes flight to deliver a piece of World Cup history

By Lawrence Ostlere at Lusail Stadium

Two hours before kick-off, fans milled up and down Lusail Boulevard in a hubbub of heart-pumping, stomach-gripping excitement. It is a wide street full of palm trees and bright shops and generic restaurants, a themepark of a place, and this so-called ‘city of the future’ felt like a weird location for some football history. But here they waited, outside McDonald’s and Nando’s and Sainsbury’s, wondering what the night had in store.

This was where Argentina’s destiny would be decided; or rather Lionel Messi’s, for that was who they’d come to see. It was the only way to explain why, beyond Argentina’s core of travelling supporters, thousands of local fans were here wearing Argentina shirts and draped in Argentinian flags. Inside the giant illuminated stadium, a group of young Arabic men took their seats wearing traditional Keffiyeh headdress coloured in the famous blue and white stripes. Thousands of people had come not really to see a World Cup semi-final, nor even to see a football match, as such. They’d come to see a moment.

Messi has his own gravitational pull, one which extends from the streets of Rosario to the bland boulevards of Lusail and far beyond. At one minute to 10pm in Doha, a posse of local volunteers rolled up the giant centre-piece covering the middle portion of the pitch and lugged it up on to their shoulders. As they prepared to march away, suddenly their heads began to spin to the left, one after another like dominos. There was Messi, a few feet across the grass, walking to his mark for the start of the World Cup semi-final.

There is a different feeling watching Messi now to any other time in his career. There is an urgency, an angst. Every touch carries more weight than before. Every match could be his last. Here he attracted everything – defenders, fans, cameras – except the ball. The match lasted 100 minutes from the first whistle to the last, and in between Messi only had control of the ball for a total of barely 60 seconds. Two seconds here, five there, and each little spell sent a surge of energy pulsating through the stadium.

Kieran Jackson14 December 2022 09:10


France won’t ‘fall into a trap’ against Morocco, Raphael Varane insists

The defending champions are just two victories away from becoming the first side to retain the trophy since Brazil in 1962 after reaching the semi-finals with a hard-fought win over England on Saturday.

Standing between them and a final against Argentina or Croatia are Qatar 2022 surprise package Morocco on Wednesday.

Les Bleus are strong favourites to get through but Varane is not taking anything for granted against a Morocco side who have conceded just one goal on their unexpected run to the last four.

The Manchester United centre-back said at a press conference: “We have a lot of experience and will not fall into the trap of thinking we’re favourites…

Kieran Jackson14 December 2022 08:59

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