Argentina reach World Cup final

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LUSAIL, Qatar (AP) — Lionel Messi is back in the World Cup final with Argentina on his mission to win soccer’s biggest prize for the first time. And, at 35, he could hardly be playing any better.

Messi converted a penalty and had a hand in the other two goals by Julián Álvarez, leading Argentina to a 3-0 win over Croatia on Tuesday that set up a meeting with either France or Morocco in Sunday’s title match.

Argentina players celebrate with Argentina’s Lionel Messi, left, who scored his side’s first goal with a penalty shot during the World Cup semifinal soccer match between Argentina and Croatia at the Lusail Stadium in Lusail, Qatar, Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2022. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

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.

It could yet be the perfect way to go out for a player widely regarded as one of the game’s best players, if not the best.

Messi is thrilling his legion of fans along the way, with his swivel and driving run to set up the third goal for Álvarez in the 69th minute epitomizing his 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.

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