Morning Star | December 14, 2022
Argentina’s goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez (centre) with Cristian Romero (left) and (tight) Lionel Messi sing the national anthem prior to the World Cup semifinal match against Croatia
WHILE the rest of us may be rooting for old stager Lionel Messi and his Argentina supporting cast to win the trophy he deserves — a bit like an Oscar for lifetime achievement rather than for this year’s best performance — the Argentina camp are happy to build a different, more paranoid, narrative for the World Cup in Qatar: it’s us against the world.
Goalie Emiliano Martinez, the excellent backstop for Aston Villa who has become one of Messi’s co-stars during the tournament, was chosen to face the media today and he reflected the dressing-room line: Argentina’s “fighters” are ready for one last battle in their quest for glory at a World Cup where he believes “everyone wanted us to lose.”
La Albiceleste are through to the sixth final in their history thanks to a Messi-inspired triumph against 2018 runners-up Croatia in Tuesday’s comfortable 3-0 semi-final win.
By the time your Morning Star drops on the doormat tomorrow morning, you’ll know if it’s France or Morocco who now await in Sunday’s showpiece back at the cavernous Lusail arena where two-time champions Argentina kicked off their tournament with one of the most humiliating results in their history.
It would be fair to say that the 2-1 loss to Saudi Arabia sent shockwaves round the footballing world and hardened the resolved of a group of players who are now just one match away from being crowned world champions.
But football fans the world over didn’t want to see Argentina out of the competition. We had our fun seeing them humbled, but we wanted Messi & Co there at the pointy end — and the spicier, the better.
“We lost the first game. All of a sudden it’s everything upside down. People doubting us. Obviously we lost the unbeaten run of 36 games,” Martinez said. “Against Mexico the first half was a little bit sloppy. Everyone wanted us to lose, so it’s us against the rest of the world.
“I am so glad that this group of 26 players are all fighters and we’ve got 45 million Argentinians all behind us. It’s just amazing. We feel the crowd on the streets: they’re all full of Argentinians. Every time we play, we’re at home: we feel like we’re at home. There’s 40,000, 50,000 Argentinians in every ground. We’re so happy to have them.”
Argentina fans have indeed outnumbered any other nations’ support in Qatar, but they’re certainly not all from Argentina: Messi & Co have drawn widespread support.
The chance to see the maestro in his fifth and, presumably, final World Cup has been a huge pull, though, should Morocco reach the final, fans in blue and white might find themselves outnumbered for once.
The 35-year-old produced a magical display against Croatia on Tuesday and Martinez downplayed any suggestions that the captain was dealing with a groin injury.
“No, no, obviously we played 120 minutes against Holland [in the quarter-final],” Martinez said. “It was a hard game for him, but you can see he wants to finish every game.
“Physically he’s really good and you can see, man of the match every game.”
Argentina will be grateful for that extra day’s rest compared with France or Morocco, while Croatia now have to dust themselves down for Saturday’s third place play-off after losing a semi-final they had started brightly.
Messi’s spot kick was followed by a brace from Manchester City’s Julian Alvarez. But Croatia captain Luka Modric — another magnificent veteran who has shone during the tournament — said the first-half penalty should not have been given and affected the team’s morale.
“I’m so upset they called this type of penalty against us. Their second goal — maybe we didn’t have a bit of luck. It was hard after that.”
Having reached the final four years ago, Croatia will have to make do with a third-place play-off in Qatar — but Modric is keen to go out on a high.
“We need to leave everything to win the bronze medal and let our fans celebrate one more time,” the 37-year-old said.