Croatia, runners-up in 2018, are the next obstacle for Argentina to overcome on Tuesday in the semifinals as Messi aims to win the one major trophy that has eluded him.
But Croatia, who lost to France in the final in Russia, are on their own mission to go one step further this time around.
“I don’t think we need to fear anybody. We need to look at ourselves to play our best game,” Croatia defender Josip Juranovic said Sunday. “I would say the secret of our success is our togetherness, our unity. The fact that we act and play as a family.”
Neymar was left in tears after Croatia beat Brazil 4-2 on penalties following a 1-1 draw through extra time in their quarterfinal match.
Messi has been in inspired form during Argentina’s run to the semifinals, scoring four goals in five games. His assist for Nahuel Molina against the Netherlands in the quarterfinals was a moment of magic from the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner.
Messi appears to have taken it on himself to lead his country to its third World Cup triumph and a first since 1986.
Argentina last reached the final in 2014 — losing 1-0 to Germany at the Maracana Stadium in Brazil. That was as close as Messi has come to lifting football’s biggest trophy and he is just one game away from having another shot at it.
Croatia appears calm for now ahead of the game at Lusail Stadium.
“We don’t have a specific plan, at least not yet, for stopping Lionel Messi,” Croatia striker Bruno Petkovic said. “Usually we don’t concentrate on just stopping one player but the whole team.
“The way we approach that is we need to stop them as a team. Not by man marking or some kind of similar tactics. Argentina is not only Messi.”
One of Croatia’s main strengths is a midfield led by Real Madrid star Luka Modric.
Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic described it as the best midfield in the world after beating Brazil, adding that it “paralysed” Neymar and Brazil.
“I think Mateo (Kovacic), Luka (Modric) and Marcelo (Brozovic) are the best Croatian midfield in history,” Juranovic added.
“When you pass them the ball it’s safer than having your money in the bank. Everything gets real easy when you play with them.”