Messi, twisted blood and Gvardiol’s place in the World Cup montage | Soccer

NOW YOU SEE HIM, NOW YOU DON’T

A penny for the thoughts of Josko Gvardiol after he woke up in Qatar this morning. After untangling his limbs and summoning team doctors to untwist his blood, the Croatia defender could have been forgiven for cussing the name of Lionel Messi to the high heavens. Having worked so hard to establish himself as one of the players of the tournament, the 20-year-old’s efforts were undone in a few seconds. Argentina’s scurrier-in-chief twisted him this way and that down the touchline, before sending Josko skittering haplessly into the middle of next week with a drop of his shoulder as he rounded his outside and nutmegged him to tee up Julián Álvarez. A routine finish cemented Argentina’s place in the final and poor old Josko’s place in the official Fifa Human Rights World Cup end-of-tournament montage.

Should Argentina go on to win it is one that will be repeated endlessly and at least Gvardiol’s need for a protective mask means that in years to come he can tell his grandchildren there’s no proof it was actually him. In truth, the poor sod did little wrong and almost everything right but increasingly this World Cup looks like Messi’s, while the rest of us are just watching or providing pratfalls by playing in it.

“I just wanted to say: the World Cup final is coming and sure, we all want to win the cup,” said Sofia Martínez, an Argentinian answer to Geoff Shreeves, in her post-match interview. “I just want to tell you that no matter the results, there’s something that no one can take from you and is the fact you resonated with Argentinians. Truly, you made your mark in everyone’s life and that to me is beyond winning any World Cup.” A humbled Messi seemed genuinely touched by the kind sentiments, a far cry from: “Well Lionel, what message do you think that win sends your PSG teammates Kylian Mbappé or Achraf Hakimi, one of whom will have to try to stop you in the final?”

While Mbappé’s France are white-hot favorites to see off Hakimi’s Morocco in this evening’s semi-final, theirs is not a task that should be taken even remotely lightly. The first African side to make it this far in World Cup history, Walid Regragui’s men have conceded just one goal – an own goal – all tournament and their otherwise watertight defense is complemented by a propensity for the kind of lethal counter-attacks that would make José Mourinho and Antonio Conte feel all warm and gloopy inside. However, there is a feeling that a raft of mid-tournament knacks to key players may finally catch up with Morocco. Barring medical miracles they will be missing three of their first-choice back four as well as their suspended, key impact sub Walid Cheddira.

All of which is not to write off Morocco, who will have a stadium full of fans, the folks back home, an entire continent and most of the footballing world behind them as they set about pulling off the kind of football miracle that, at the start of the tournament, would have made Leicester’s famous 2016 title win seem little more than routine.

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It’s time for the second semi-final! Join Rob Smyth for live MBM updates from France 2-1 Morocco, kicking off at 7pm GMT.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

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Who wouldn’t want to tell Kevin De Bruyne how to play football? Photograph: Michael Steele/Getty Images

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Hail Messi, full of grace
Argentina is with thee
Blessed art thou among footballers
And wounded is the fruit of thy left foot” – John Weldon.

Re: Bill Foley’s welcome speech (yesterday’s Beyond the HRWC) – was it just me who was reminded of this speech by another famous Bill?’ – Iain Irvine.

Send your letters to the.boss@theguardian.com. Today’s winner of our prizeless letter o’ the day is … Iain Irvine.

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