No surprise here: Lionel Messi, Argentina set new World Cup standards

Lionel Messi is now co-leader in goals and assists at the 2022 World Cup. (Photo by JUAN MABROMATA/AFP via Getty Images)
Lionel Messi is now co-leader in goals and assists at the 2022 World Cup. (Photo by JUAN MABROMATA/AFP via Getty Images) /
Messi World Cup records
Lionel Messi is seen here slotting the ball back to Julián Álvarez for Argentina’s third goal. Argentina will be playing in its sixth World Cup Final after routing Croatia 3-0. The Argentine magician has now played in a record-tying 25 World Cup matches. (Photo by Youssef Loulidi/Fantasista/Getty Images) /

In a semifinal that pitted the last two World Cup runners-up, Argentina (a 1-0 overtime loser to Germany in the 2014 final) cruised past Croatia (second to France in 2018) by a comfortable 3-0 scoreline.

But we’re not going to discuss the game particulars here. Nor are we going to break down the other semifinal in which defending champion France takes on Morocco, the first African nation to reach the Final Four at a World Cup.

Instead, we’ll dig back into the history books and scour the statistical records for a few tidbits.

And in this instance, that starts with Lionel Messi and the new standards he is setting. For instance, after his one goal-two assist performance against Croatia, Messi became the first player since 1966 to have a goal and an assist in three different games at a single World Cup.

Most World Cup games played

Messi – one of only five players capped in five different World Cups – is set to play in his 26th World Cup match in Sunday’s final. That will move him past Germany’s Lothar Matthäus – another man for whom the nickname “Cinco Copas” fits – for most World Cup caps all time.

Oh, the other three five-timers are Cristiano Ronaldo (22 games) and Mexico’s own Rafa Márquez (19 games) and Antonio Carbajal (11 games).

Back in Qatar, Messi is now co-leader in goals scored (5, with France’s Kylian Mbappé, Messi’s club teammate) and co-leader in assists (3, tied with three others).

“La Pulga” now has 11 World Cup goals, most all time among Argentines. With his first half penalty kick against Croatia, Messi climbed past Gabriel Batistuta – “Batigol” – the only other Argentine with double-digit goals at the “ultimate tournament.” Next in line are Guillermo Stabile and Diego Maradona with 8 goals.

Getting rid of the European  hex

Heading into Qatar 2022, Argentina was winless (0-3-3) in its six previous World Cup matches against European sides. Now “los Albicelestes” are on a three-game unbeaten streak against squads from the Old Country.

Argentina defeated Poland 2-0 in a group-stage match, drew with Holland 2-2 before eliminating the Dutch in a penalty shoot-out, then dismantled the 2018 runners-up, Croatia, in Tuesday’s semifinal.

Perfect in the Final Four

Argentina sure is right at home in the Final Four. The South American giant is now 5-0 in World Cup semifinals, dating back to the very first one.

  1. Uruguay 1930: Argentina 6, United States 1
  2. Mexico 1986: Argentina 2, Belgium 0
  3. Italy 1990: Argentina 1 (4), Italy 1 (3)
  4. 2014 Brazil: Argentina 0 (4), Holland 0 (2)
  5. 2022 Qatar: Argentina 3, Croatia 0

The cakewalk over Croatia sends Argentina into its sixth World Cup final (the 1978 tournament which the Sky Blues hosted did not feature a semifinal round, instead determining the finalists in a second group stage).

Only Germany – 8 – and Brazil – 7 – have appeared in more finals. Three of Germany’s eight finals appearances came against Argentina (1986 with Diego Maradona leading his team to victory; 1990 when a controversial late penalty helped Matthäus and Germany win; and the overtime thriller in 2014 that saw Mario Götze score the winner in minute 113).

Italy has also appeared in 6 World Cup finals.

Great run by Croatia

Luka Modric and Croatia were stymied by the rugged Argentine defense, a rarity in international tournaments.

The 3-0 loss was the first time in its past 11 knockout games that the “Kockasti” failed to score at least once.

In seven of its previous eight knockout matches at the past four major tournaments (Euros 2016, Russia 2018, Euros 2022 and Qatar 2022), Croatia had taken the game into extra time.

Round of 16, Euros 2016: Portugal 1, Croatia 0, in overtime

Round of 16, Russia 2018: Croatia 1 (3), Denmark 1 (1)

Quarterfinals, Russia 2018: Croatia 2 (4), Russia 2 (3)

Semifinals, Russia 2018: Croatia 2, England 1, in overtime

Round of 16, Euros 2020: Spain 5, Croatia 3, in overtime

Round of 16, Qatar 2022: Croatia 1 (3), Japan 1 (1)

Quarterfinals, Qatar 2022: Croatia 1 (4), Brazil 1 (2)

Next. Mexican ref will be in charge of France-Morocco. dark

The lone exception was the 2018 World Cup Final in Russia, a 4-2 loss to France in regulation time. That is, it was the lone exception until Argentina dismantled the rugged Croatia defense on Tuesday.