Messi magic sends Argentina to World Cup final

Lionel Messi put on a sensational display as he helped Argentina secure a spot in the World Cup final with a comfortable 3-0 victory over Croatia on Tuesday.

Messi opened the scoring with a powerfully hit penalty on 34 minutes — becoming Argentina’s all-time leading goal scorer at World Cup finals — and shortly after Alvarez completed a direct solo run through the heart of the Croatia defence before tapping home to double Argentina’s lead before half-time.

Alvarez added the side’s third, thanks in part to a signature run from Messi who used his change of speed to guide past Josko Gvardiol before sliding the ball back to Alvarez for an easy finish.

Argentina, who have twice won the World Cup in 1978 and 1986, advance to Sunday’s final where they will face either France or Morocco, who play on Wednesday.

Croatia, who finished runners up in Russia four years ago, exit the competition after putting together another shock run to the semifinals.

“Throughout the World Cup it has been incredible what we have experienced. We are going to play the final which is what we wanted,” Messi said.

“I don’t know if it’s my best World Cup, it’s been a long time I’ve been enjoying. This team is crazy. We are going to play one more final, we are going to enjoy all of this.”

Messi’s inclusion in the starting lineup meant he drew level with Germany’s Lothar Matthaeus as joint record holder for most World Cup appearances with his 25th game.

Croatia wanted possession at the start, as they had done against Brazil in their quarterfinal, and circulated the ball well but struggled to find a way into the Argentina box.

Argentina enjoyed a prime chance to take the lead when Alvarez was brought down by Croatia goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic in the box for a penalty, with Messi on hand to convert.

But the best was yet to come and it was Alvarez again involved as he picked up a Messi pass in his own half, sprinted 50 metres and weaved his way into the Croatia box, thanks to two lucky bounces and some sloppy defending, before tucking in the second goal.

Livakovic, who had carried Croatia into the semifinals with saves in their penalty shootout wins against Japan and Brazil, did well to stop an Alexis Mac Allister header on the stroke of half-time that could have killed off the game after 45 minutes.

However, unlike their extra-time comeback heroics against tournament favourites Brazil, there was no way back this time for Croatia.

Argentina were in no mood to squander their two-goal advantage as they had done against the Netherlands in the last eight, and they conceded no space.

Alvarez dashed any lingering Croatia hopes in the 69th, tapping in a cutback after Messi tricked his way past defender Gvardiol on the right to pick out his teammate in the box who sealed Croatia’s tournament exit.

“We have gone through some tough situations, some very good ones,” Messi added. “Today we are experiencing something spectacular.

“I’m enjoying it with all these people and with all the Argentinians who are in our country. I imagine it must be crazy.”

(Story from ESPN FC/Photos: FIFA)


Briggs to captain Golden Jaguars for upcoming World Cup qualifiers

Former England youth international Matthew Briggs will captain Guyana’s senior men’s national team in its two 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifiers in June.
Briggs, who plies his trade in the Danish Superliga for Vejle Boldklub, will lead the side in its must-win Group F fixtures against St. Kitts and Nevis on June 4 and Puerto Rico on June 8.

“I’m honoured to accept the captaincy – it’s always been a dream of mine to captain a national team so I am thoroughly excited to get this journey started and to see what the future holds,” said 30-year-old defender Briggs, who was the youngest player to play in the English Premier League when he made his debut for Fulham aged 16 years and 68 days in May 2007.
“We’ve got two games coming up and I hope we all give 110 percent like I know we will. We’ve got all the capabilities to go and win both of these games.”
Briggs made his first international appearance for the Golden Jaguars in a 2-0 friendly win against Grenada in 2015. Capped 14 times so far, he scored his first goal for Guyana in a 4-2 victory over Aruba in the Concacaf Nations League in November 2019.

“There’s excitement in the camp. Going on the last camp, we didn’t perform to our full potential, which was disappointing for us, so we are excited to get into these two games now and put that right. We want to win both games. I look at both these games and I think we are favourites to win them. I think we will be the better team and we’ve got more than enough quality to win both of these games.”

Head Coach Marcio Maximo said Briggs was a natural choice to lead the team because of the professional example he set to the other players during matches and away from the field of play.
“Equally important as performance and attitude on the pitch is attitude off the pitch – that is why we have chosen Briggs,” Maximo said. “He always showed good commitment and a professional attitude. He stimulates all the younger players to follow his example. He is always at the same level in good and bad times, totally professional, and the players respect him.”

The Golden Jaguars are training in Antigua before departing for St. Kitts and Nevis on June 2 for their last two first round matches. After a 3-0 loss against Trinidad and Tobago and 4-0 win over the Bahamas in March, Guyana lies in third place in Group F and requires favourable results elsewhere to reach the second round. Only the top team from each group will progress.

“We wish Matthew all the best as he skippers the Golden Jaguars for the first time in June,” said Guyana Football Federation President Wayne Forde. “It’s a great honour to lead one’s country, and we know Matthew has got everything it takes to be an inspiration and example to his team on and off the pitch.”

“We would also like to pay tribute to Sam Cox, who has captained Guyana with passion and dedication in recent years. Sam has been a great ambassador and warrior for Golden Jaguars. The whole nation is grateful for his service in leading Guyana to some of its greatest moments on the pitch, including reaching its first men’s Concacaf Gold Cup in 2019,” Forde said.