FIFA World Cup
Lionel Messi led his Argentina lineup off the field because of a brawl between rival fans in Brazil, delaying the start of their South American World Cup qualifier by 27 minutes Tuesday at the Maracana Stadium. Messi's squad returned from the locker room after it was deemed to be safe and went on to win a tense match 1-0, staying on the pitch to celebrate with their fans long after the final whistle. “There was family of the players (there). We were more worried about that than playing the match,” Messi said after the match. “We did that (going to the locker room) because that was the way to make it all calm. From below, we couldn’t do much, we saw how they (police) hit people.” Read: Argentina beats Brazil 1-0 in World Cup qualifying after crowd violence delays start Players of both teams had earlier asked fans for calm, with Argentina goalkeeper Dibu Martinez racing to one of the rails in front of the visiting fans and urging police to stop the violence. Police used batons to break up the fights in the crowd, which started minutes after the national anthems echoed around the stadium. Parts of seating and other objects were thrown from both sides and hit some spectators behind one of the goals, and at least one fan left the stadium bleeding from his head. Argentina returned after 22 minutes in the locker rooms, and warmed up for several minutes before the game was finally started. Dozens of police surrounded Argentina fans as they cheered during the match, and even more security faced toward them on the pitch. Police gathered around the section that can hold about 3,000 fans. Col. Vagner Ferreira, the highest-ranking police officer in the stadium, blamed organizers for the lack of a barrier between home and visiting fans. He defended the actions of police. Read: Messi seeks 1st goal against Brazil in World Cup qualifying, hosts try to avert crisis in Rio “Every action demands a reaction. There is a history of confrontation here. At first we spoke to them. Then, we had to use our batons. There was no lethal force involved, no rubber bullets, no tear gas. This was a very technical approach,” Ferreira told TV channel SporTV. All 69,000 tickets for the match in Rio de Janeiro were sold. Brazil fans, who jeered and applauded Messi before the brawl began, chanted against him when he returned to the pitch. Brazil players remained on the pitch and warmed up while waiting for the Argentina team to return. Argentina leads South American World Cup qualifying with 15 points from six games. Brazil is in sixth position. Both teams had lost their previous games in the 10-team round-robin competition. The rivalry between Brazil and Argentina started at the club level and grew after the Argentinians won their first World Cup title in 1978. The Brazilians beat Argentina 3-1 in the second phase of the 1982 World Cup, and the Argentines responded with a 1-0 victory eight years later in the round of 16. The reginal rivals have since played fierce matches in World Cup qualifying and in Copa America, but not in World Cups. They were expected to face off in the semifinals last year in Qatar, but Brazil was knocked out by Croatia in the quarterfinals before Argentina went on to win the title for a third time. Read: FIFA World Cup Qualifiers: Bangladesh team make gym, recovery session in Melbourne Sunday The heated debate over who is the best footballer in history, with most Brazilians going for Pelé and Argentinians split between Messi and Diego Maradona, has also intensified the rivalry. On Nov. 4, Brazil's Fluminense won the Copa Libertadores final at the Maracana Stadium after a week of street fights between some of its supporters and those of Argentina's Boca Juniors.
Lionel Messi stands on the brink of a long-awaited World Cup winner’s medal as Argentina faces defending champions France in Sunday’s final. One of soccer’s greatest players of all time is within touching distance of the one major trophy that has eluded him in his storied career. Read more: FIFA charges Argentina for disorder at World Cup match But having experienced defeat in the final of 2014 in Brazil, when Argentina lost 1-0 to Germany through extra time, Messi knows all too well the pain of having his World Cup dreams shattered. If Argentina is to win the tournament for the first time since 1986, here is how it might do it: LEAVE IT TO MESSI There is no escaping the sense that it is Messi’s destiny to emulate soccer great Diego Maradona and lead Argentina to the World Cup title. The 35-year-old Paris Saint-Germain forward has been in inspired form in Qatar, scoring five goals on the way to the final and producing some magical assists for his teammates. Maradona, who died in 2020, also scored five times in ’86 and was an iconic figure for his team and country. Messi does not dominate games over 90 minutes in the way he did during his peak years. Instead he decides them with moments of brilliance that showcase the talents that have led many to describe him as the finest soccer player in history. He has carried the expectations of his nation throughout his career, but never truly delivered at a World Cup. While he may be past his best, he has been more influential in this tournament than in any of his previous four World Cups. Argentina’s fans seem convinced they will win the trophy for a third time and that there is more than just Messi guiding them on. “Maradona,” they sing, “is cheering Lionel on” from heaven. CONCENTRATION IS KEY Assessing his team’s semifinal loss to France, Morocco coach Walid Regragui provided a fascinating observation. “I believe any country that plays France believe they are close to winning,” he said. “But when you’re close to winning, actually you are quite far from winning.” After putting France under pressure for long periods, Morocco eventually lost 2-0. It was a similar story for England in the quarterfinals. France won 2-1 in that game, despite England’s players believing they had been the better team. The warning is there for Argentina. Both teams have been comfortable giving up possession of the ball and attacking on the break. Perhaps the winner will be the team that manages to stick to those tactics, rather than being sucked in and pushing too far forward. Maintaining that concentration and discipline will be vital for Argentina — especially with the threat of Kylian Mbappe’s speed when France breaks. Read more: Argentina beat Croatia 3-0 to reach World Cup final FEED OFF THE FANS It has been emotional for Argentina and its supporters, who have lit up the tournament in Qatar. The mass outpouring of feelings has been a feature after every win. That can take a lot out of players — but in this instance, it has felt like the opposite has been true. Messi and Co. look like they are being driven on by the weight of expectation, rather than burdened by it. There is a sense that the players and the fans are in this together, and if, as expected, Argentina’s supporters outnumber France’s at Lusail Stadium on Sunday, that could give the edge to Messi and his teammates. That being said, Morocco’s fans totally dominated the atmosphere in their country’s semifinals match against France and still ended up on the losing side.
Luka Modric pulled his shirt up over his face as he trudged over to the sideline. Croatia’s red-and-white-clad fans recognized the sorrowful significance of the moment and rose up to applaud the diminutive midfielder who is probably their nation’s greatest ever player. Argentina’s boisterous supporters soon followed suit at Lusail Stadium, honoring an opponent who is likely appearing at his last World Cup. Substituted in the 81st minute on Tuesday, with his team trailing by three goals, it effectively marked the end of Modric’s World Cup era. Croatia ended up losing to Argentina 3-0 in the semifinals, four years after the team lost to France in the final. Read: Argentina beat Croatia 3-0 to reach World Cup final Modric was somber as he was replaced by Lovro Majer before calmly taking his seat in the dugout. There was no grand gesture to the crowd or outpouring of emotion for a man whose understated brilliance can still be overlooked despite everything he has achieved. “We just wanted to be again in the final,” Modric said, “but unfortunately we are not.” The second most famous 37-year-old at the World Cup is going home, a few days after the other one. Modric is the same age as former Real Madrid teammate Cristiano Ronaldo, but as both men approach the twilight of their trophy-laden careers, the contrast is stark. That was particularly evident leading up to and during the World Cup. While Ronaldo hogged the limelight with his explosive eve-of-the-tournament interview with Piers Morgan, Modric expressed himself on the field. After leading Croatia to the final in Russia, he was again the inspiration as a nation with a population of about 4 million made it to semifinals for the second straight World Cup. Read: Argentina erupts in joy after team reaches World Cup final Meanwhile, Ronaldo, amid the distraction of his exit from Manchester United and possible transfer to a club in Saudi Arabia, ended up benched and in tears as Portugal’s hopes were ended by Morocco in the quarterfinals. In Croatia’s quarterfinal match, Modric played his part in eliminating Brazil — and Neymar. But he couldn’t do anything to stop Lionel Messi on his personal mission to finally win soccer’s biggest trophy. Messi scored the opening goal from the penalty spot on Tuesday, and then produced a piece of magic to set up the second of Julian Alvarez’s two goals. But Messi wasn’t the only iconic figure on display at Lusail Stadium. Surely regarded by many as Croatia’s finest, Modric also ranks alongside the best midfielders to ever play the game. A five-time Champions League winner with Real Madrid, he also won soccer’s ultimate individual prize, the Ballon d’Or, in 2018. And his performances in Qatar show he still has more to give. He may yet play again for his national team at the 2024 European Championship with one final bow for his country. And who would rule out more trophies with Real Madrid? “Well, perhaps this is the end for the generation at the World Cup. A couple of them are at an age where it will be hard to play at the World Cup in 2026. We will wait and see,” Croatia coach Zlatko Dalić said. “I think a lot of players will finish off at Euro 2024.” Wherever Modric’s story goes from here, his status as a World Cup great is secure.
The streets of Argentina turned into a party Tuesday as the national team beat Croatia by a comfortable 3-0 and earned this soccer-crazed South American country a spot in the World Cup final. Fans poured onto the streets of the capital of Buenos Aires as soon as the match ended, with people waving Argentina flags out of their cars while others jumped and sang in joy amid a sea of wearing the national team’s jersey. Earlier, Buenos Aires had come to a standstill on what was a scorching summer afternoon as fans packed cafes, restaurants and public plazas, where giant screens followed the exploits of the Lionel Messi-led team. “I’m in complete ecstasy,” said Emiliano Adam, 31, who works at an advertising agency and was celebrating in the streets of Buenos Aires while wearing the country’s flag as a cape. “This is the first match that didn’t make me suffer, the first time I could enjoy a match from beginning to end.” Read: Modrić's dream of winning World Cup ends Argentina will now play the last match of the World Cup against either France or Morocco, who are facing off Wednesday.
Lionel Messi bent over, clutched his left hamstring and appeared to grimace, immediately spreading panic through the soccer world but especially among all Argentines. Was their superstar — their idol — injured? Was he going to have to come off early in the World Cup semifinals? No such luck for Croatia. Before long, Messi was producing perhaps the best performance of his record-tying 25 appearances at the World Cup, leading Argentina to a 3-0 victory over Croatia on Tuesday that set up a meeting with either France or Morocco in Sunday’s final. Messi is back in soccer’s biggest match on his mission to win the game’s greatest prize for the first time. At 35, he could hardly be playing any better. Messi converted a penalty and played a part in the other two goals by Julián Álvarez — one with an outrageous piece of skill that brought roars of approval from Argentina’s huge following — to turn an initially tense occasion into a procession. “A lot is going through my head — it’s very emotional seeing all of this,” Messi said in a post-match interview on the field as he looked up at Argentina’s celebrating, scarf-waving supporters. “To see the fans — ‘the family’ — during the whole tournament was so incredible. We’re going to the final, which is what we wanted.” It will be Messi’s second World Cup final — Argentina lost the other one to Germany in 2014 — in what might be his last appearance at the tournament. The stage is set for a player widely regarded as one of the game’s best, if not the absolute best, to go out on the ultimate high. He is thrilling his legion of fans along the way. His swivel and driving run to set up the third goal for Álvarez in the 69th minute left Josko Gvardiol — one of the best defenders at the World Cup — grasping at thin air and epitomized Messi’s confidence and swagger. He is embracing the responsibility of leading Argentina to its third World Cup title, scoring in five of his six games in Qatar. He even had a penalty saved in the one game in which he didn’t score. “I am honored to train him and see him play,” said Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni, who was in tears in the post-match celebrations. “Every time you see him play, it’s a huge source of motivation for his teammates, fans and the whole world.” Croatia failed in its bid to reach a second straight World Cup final after conceding two goals in a five-minute span from the 34th, just when the team was looking comfortable at Lusail Stadium and Messi was raising concerns by rubbing his hamstring. Maybe it was a ruse. Messi was soon toying with his opponents in a way only he can and put Argentina ahead by lifting his penalty into the top corner after Álvarez was taken out by Dominik Livakovic after clipping the ball past the Croatia goalkeeper. Álvarez scored himself in the 39th after a surging run from halfway, which started after he collected Messi’s short pass. Then came the crowning moment, Álvarez’s second goal, after Messi took Gvardiol for a ride in the right corner. It was one game too far for Croatia, which had beaten Japan and Brazil on penalties in the knockout stage, and star midfielder Luka Modric, who — at 37 — has likely played his final World Cup match. Summing up a frustrating game for the little midfield magician, he was substituted in the 81st minute and had a bright red nose after the ball slammed into his face moments earlier. “The first goal took the match in a different direction,” Croatia coach Zlatko Dalić said. “It’s the true Messi we all expected to see.” Argentina maintained its record of never having lost in the World Cup semifinals and has reached the final for the sixth time. Those dark days after losing to Saudi Arabia in its opening group match seem so long ago now for Argentina, which will be hard to stop in the final with Messi playing this well. “Even though we lost our first match, we were confident that this group was going to push forward,” Messi said. “We know what we are, and we called on the fans to believe in us.” MESSI RECORDS Messi became Argentina’s record scorer at World Cups with his third penalty of the tournament taking him to 11 goals in total — one more than Gabriel Batistuta. He also tied the record for most appearances at the World Cup by playing for the 25th time, the same number as Lothar Matthäus of Germany. ALVAREZ The 22-year-old Álvarez didn’t start the tournament as Argentina’s striker. He only took the place of Lautaro Martinez in the third group game and now has four goals, one behind Messi and Mbappé. He is the youngest player to score twice in a World Cup semifinal match since a 17-year-old Pele scored a hat trick in 1958.
FIFA opened a disciplinary case against Argentina for its players’ actions during a contentious World Cup quarterfinal match against the Netherlands. The soccer governing body cited “order and security at matches” in its disciplinary code for charging the Argentina soccer federation. Argentina substitutes and coaches encroached on the field as the game turned confrontational in the late stages as the Dutch scored two late goals to force extra time. There were more heated exchanges on the field after Argentina won the penalty shootout following the 2-2 draw. Lionel Messi was among a World Cup record 17 players or coaching staff members who were shown yellow cards during or after the game. Team misconduct charges are routine for collecting five yellow cards in a game and disciplinary cases were opened against both Argentina and the Netherlands, FIFA said. Both federations could get the same 15,000 Swiss francs fine ($16,000) that FIFA’s disciplinary panel imposed twice on Saudi Arabia at this World Cup for team misconduct. Read more: US soccer journalist Grant Wahl dies at World Cup Argentina will likely get a heavier fine for the separate disorder charge. FIFA gave no timetable for verdicts, which have typically not been published before a team’s next game at this World Cup.
Neymar walked off the field with teammate Dani Alves by his side, tears still rolling down the Brazil forward's cheeks. Other players had already tried to console Neymar as he cried while sitting near midfield, head down, hiding his face. There wasn't much they could say to get the team's biggest star to lift his head up. Again there was disappointment instead of joy at the end of a World Cup for Neymar. Again he couldn't lead Brazil to a major title. It was his third failure at a World Cup, and his only triumphs with the national team are the 2013 Confederations Cup and the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, when Brazil won its first gold medal in soccer. Neymar said it wasn't the time to talk about his future with the national team. Read more: Croatia end Brazil's dream of 6th World Cup “Honestly, I don't know what's going to happen. It's hard to talk about it right now,” he said. “It would be too hasty to come here and say that this is it, but I can't guarantee anything. I have to take some time to think about it. I'm not closing any doors to the Seleção, but I'm also not saying 100% that I want to be back." Neymar scored Friday to move level with Pelé as Brazil’s all-time leading scorer with 77 goals, but the Seleção ended up losing to Croatia 4-2 in a penalty shootout in the quarterfinals after the match finished 1-1 after extra time. Neymar never had a chance to take a penalty after Rodrygo and Marquinhos missed their spot kicks. “He would have taken the fifth penalty,” Brazil coach Tite said. “That's the one with the most pressure, and he would be the player with the most quality and mental preparedness to take the shot.” Neymar scored his goal in extra time with a right-footed shot after getting through the defense and dribbling past the Croatia goalkeeper to match Pelé’s record. He entered the tournament two goals shy of the milestone, and scored his 76th in the round of 16 against South Korea after returning from an ankle injury. The 82-year-old Pelé showed his support to Neymar from his hospital bed in Brazil, where he was improving while being treated for a respiratory infection that was aggravated by COVID-19. “I saw you grow, I cheered for you every day and I can finally congratulate you for reaching my number of goals with Brazil. We both know that this is more than a figure,” he wrote on Instagram. “Our biggest duty as athletes is to inspire. Inspire our teammates of today, the next generations and, above all, everyone who loves our sport. “Unfortunately, this is not the happiest day for us,” Pelé added. “My record was set almost 50 years ago, and nobody had managed to get near it until now. You got there, kid. That shows how great your achievement is.” Brazil was close to returning to the semifinals for the first time since 2014, but instead Neymar looked in anguish from midfield as Croatia substitute Bruno Petkovic equalized in the 117th minute. Neymar also didn't play in the last four of the tournament that Brazil hosted eight years ago. He suffered a serious back injury in the quarterfinals against Colombia and then saw his teammates lose 7-1 to Germany. The 30-year-old Neymar scored his 77 goals in 124 matches for Brazil. Pelé’s goals came in 92 appearances with the national team between 1957 and 1971. Ronaldo, a World Cup winner with Brazil in 2002, is third on the list with 62 goals in 98 matches. Pelé won three World Cups, including when he was 17 years old in the 1958 tournament. He also helped Brazil win the World Cup in 1962 and 1970. Read more: Neymar ties Pelé’s all-time record with Brazil at World Cup Neymar first played for Brazil as an 18-year-old in 2010. He is the only other Brazil player other than Pelé and Ronaldo to score in three different World Cups. Neymar damaged ligaments in his ankle in Brazil’s opening win against Serbia, and his participation in the rest of the tournament was in doubt because of the injury. He made it back to the starting lineup after missing two group games, and played about 80 minutes in Brazil’s 4-1 win over South Korea on Monday. The forward has had right ankle problems in the past, being among a series of injuries since the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Another right ankle sprain forced him to miss the 2019 Copa América, which Brazil won.
Cristiano Ronaldo did not threaten to leave the World Cup after being dropped from the starting lineup to play Switzerland in the round of 16, Portugal coach Fernando Santos said Friday. Santos did acknowledge his star player was “not happy” to be told he was not in the starting lineup in a private meeting on Tuesday after lunch, hours before the game. Ronaldo’s replacement Gonçalo Ramos scored three goals in 6-1 win. The all-time leading scorer for Portugal came off the bench in the 74th minute. READ: Croatia end Brazil's dream of 6th World Cup “Cristiano obviously was not very happy about it. He told me ‘Do you really think it’s a good idea?’” Santos said one day before facing Morocco in the quarterfinals. “He has never told me that he wanted to leave the national team,” Santos said in translated comments, dismissing reports in Portuguese media. “It is time we stopped with this conversation and the controversies. He celebrated all the goals that we scored.” “It is time for you to leave Ronaldo alone in acknowledgement of what he did for Portuguese football,” the coach said. Santos declined to say if he would change the team and restore Ronaldo to face Morocco.
Olivier Giroud broke Thierry Henry's French record with his 52nd goal for the national team Sunday, giving the defending champions a 1-0 lead over Poland in the round of 16 at the World Cup. The 36-year-old Giroud had tied Henry's record of 51 goals when he scored twice in a 4-1 win over Australia in France's opening game in Qatar. Read: France advance to quarterfinals with dominant victory over Poland On Sunday, Giroud collected a pass from Kylian Mbappe in the 44th minute and sent a low shot with his left foot past Poland goalkeeper Wojciech Szczęsny, his former teammate at Arsenal.
With Wales on the verge of World Cup elimination, Gareth Bale was dismissive when asked if Tuesday’s game against England could be the last for his country. “Nope,” was his one-word answer. He chose not to elaborate. While questions hang over Bale’s long-term future, Wales’ concerns are more immediate. If Wales fails to beat England in its final Group B game it is out of the World Cup. But even a win might not be enough to secure qualification to the knockout stages. “We’re disappointed in the results and the performances,” Bale said Monday. “But that’s football, it’s not easy, it’s a World Cup. We don’t need to get anyone going — we just need to keep working hard and hopefully things will turn around for us.” Read more: Why are World Cup players donning unusual face masks on pitch? The 1-1 draw with the United States in Wales’ opening game, when Bale scored a penalty to tie, was a solid enough start. But a 2-0 loss to Iran has put Wales in jeopardy of World Cup elimination. So it is understandable that Bale had little interest in engaging in discussion about his storied career and what remains for his playing days. He was asked how a win against England and moving into the round of 16 would rank against his five Champions League trophies with Real Madrid. “I’ll let you know if it happens,” he said curtly. At 33, Bale doesn’t need to be told occasions like this might be over for him once Wales’ World Cup adventure ends. After leading his country to the semifinals of Euro 2016 and through to the knockout stages of Euro 2020, he ended Wales' 64-year wait to qualify for a World Cup. But his influence is declining, as has been evident in Wales’ opening two games. Meanwhile, other key players in Aaron Ramsey and Joe Allen are also past their peak. With a lack of obvious replacements coming through, qualification for another major tournament may not be on the horizon any time soon. Read more: Viral Wales video hangs over World Cup clash with England Bale has also said goodbye to elite European football – joining MLS team Los Angeles FC in the summer. In short, his opportunities to play in front of a global audience could be scarce beyond Qatar. But it would be unwise to write off a player who has made a career of producing game-changing moments on the biggest occasions. That's a fact England coach Gareth Southgate noted when was asked to pay tribute to one of British soccer’s greats. In his mind, Bale represents a very live threat. “He’s had a fantastic — or is having a fantastic career,” he said. “Clearly his club career and what he won with Real Madrid is phenomenal. We know that he’s capable of those individual moments of brilliance in the penalty area and from distance as well. Free kicks, of course, are a great strength.” Perhaps no team at the World Cup is more reliant on one player as Wales is with Bale. Not Portugal with Cristiano Ronaldo – or Argentina with Lionel Messi. “I do the same as I always do. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t,” said Bale. “Sometimes I have a good game, sometimes I don’t. It’s football, it’s difficult to always play well. “I will give everything, like I always do for my country. I will just try to lead by example and hopefully that’s enough on the day. That is all I can do.”