And it has, repeatedly, been Messi who has intervened in games to bend them to his will. Since that loss to the Saudis, he said, Argentina has “faced five finals, and been fortunate to win all five.”
Fortunate is one word for it. Within the group stage, it was Messi who broke the deadlock against Mexico, just as Argentina’s nerves were shredding, because the specter of humiliation hung heavy over the nation. It was Messi who opened the scoring against Australia within the round of 16. It was Messi who made the primary goal and scored the second against the Dutch, after which it was Messi who stepped up and took the primary penalty within the shootout.
Against Croatia, too, it was Messi who proved the decisive figure. The cruelty of knockout soccer is that a complete month’s price of labor — more, actually — can evaporate in a single fast. Croatia’s defining trait, throughout the tournament, has been its control, its composure.
It could not have been probably the most adventurous, probably the most thrill-seeking team in Qatar, however it has been disciplined, organized, resolute. It has worn down opponents, held them at bay, trusted that they might make the primary mistake. It had done it well enough not only to make it to the semifinal, beating Brazil along the way in which, but to survive the primary half hour of Tuesday’s game with barely a scratch.
Luka Modric, that other generational talent attempting to stave off the ultimate curtain, had established his authority over the midfield. His redoubtable cadre of lieutenants — Marcelo Brozovic, Mateo Kovacic, Ivan Perisic — were hurriedly and dutifully putting out what few fires threatened to ignite. Argentina was beginning to get that very same sinking feeling that loads of teams face when confronted by Croatia.
But all it takes is a moment. For the primary time — on this game, on this tournament, possibly in his life — Modric took his eye off the ball. Moderately than coming under his command, it rolled under his feet, squirming out to Enzo Fernández. Irrespective of; Fernández was still deep in his own half. There was no immediately apparent danger.
Modric is so reliable, though, that it had not occurred to anyone that he might err. Josko Gvardiol and Dejan Lovren, Croatia’s central defenders, had drifted apart, attempting to supply him a good angle for a pass.