Sergio Gallardo

Lionel Messi's date with destiny


Argentina have shown real resolve at this World Cup. They lost their opening game against Saudi Arabia, but have bounced back to reach the final.

In two do-or-die games against Mexico and Poland, they got the job done and topped Group C. The whole of Argentina let out a huge sigh of relief.

In the last 16, Argentina had to dig in. Australia, one of the round’s weakest teams, gave them a run for their money - but Lionel Scaloni's men held out.

In the quarters, the ghosts of the group stage reared their ugly head. In the final 10 minutes, the Dutch scored twice to take the tie to extra time and penalties.

No World Cup run is easy, but with Dibu Martínez in goal, it’s easier. The goalkeeper starred in the shootout to take his team into the semi-finals.

It also helps if you have Leo Messi and Julián Álvarez up top. They’ve scored nine of Argentina’s 12 goals, and were fabulous in the semi against Croatia.

Álvarez has really come to the fore, forming a fine pairing with Messi. The PSG ace, meanwhile, is joint-highest scorer in Qatar, with five (level with France's Kylian Mbappé).

Messi has equalled Lothar Matthäus’ career World Cup appearances record (25). In Sunday’s final against France, he’ll beat that mark as he bids to banish the memories of Brazil 2014.