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Lionel Messi: Argentina's Loss in 2022 World Cup Opener Propelled Run to Final

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured Columnist IVDecember 13, 2022

Argentina's forward #10 Lionel Messi waves at the end of the Qatar 2022 World Cup football semi-final match between Argentina and Croatia at Lusail Stadium in Lusail, north of Doha on December 13, 2022. (Photo by Paul ELLIS / AFP) (Photo by PAUL ELLIS/AFP via Getty Images)
PAUL ELLIS/AFP via Getty Images

Argentina's opening match loss to Saudi Arabia was arguably the most stunning on-field development of the 2022 World Cup, but it apparently made the soccer powerhouse stronger ahead of a run to the final.

"Internally we were confident that we would make it because we know what we are capable of as a squad," Lionel Messi said after propelling his team to a 3-0 victory over Croatia in Tuesday's semifinal match, per James Olley of ESPN. "We lost in the first match due to fine details, but it helped us to be stronger."

Messi went on to call the entire situation "an acid test" for the team considering it essentially had to win out from there to clinch a spot in the knockout stage.

"This is a mental load because we knew things would be more complicated for us," Messi said. "We managed to win five finals, and I hope it will be this way for the final game."

Olley noted Spain became the only team in men's World Cup history to lose the opening match and then win the entire event when it accomplished such a feat in 2010. Argentina is just one win away from joining them after a brilliant showing from Messi.

The all-time great opened the scoring Tuesday with a well-struck penalty kick and assisted on Argentina's third goal following an incredible run. JuliÑn Álvarez put home his perfectly placed set-up after also scoring the victor's second goal.

A World Cup title is the only glaring omission from Messi's legendary list of accomplishments, but that will change if he can inspire a victory over France or Morocco in Sunday's final.

Morocco is the underdog story of the tournament as the first African nation to reach the semifinals, while France is the reigning World Cup champion with the unstoppable Kylian MbappΓ© leading the charge.

Following the loss to Saudi Arabia, the journey for Messi's side has included victories over Mexico, Poland to close the group stage before advancing past Australia, the Netherlands and Croatia in the knockout rounds. The quarterfinal showdown with the Netherlands was the most dramatic, as they gave up a late 2-0 lead by conceding a goal deep into stoppage time before outlasting the Dutch in a penalty shootout.

Tuesday brought a much more complete effort and has Argentina one more win away from glory.