DOHA, Qatar (AP) — The blue-and-white wall of Argentina fans launched into another rendition of their World Cup anthem as fulltime approached at Lusail Stadium.

“Maradona,” they sang, “is cheering Lionel on” from heaven.

The parallels between the two all-time greats of Argentine soccer, Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi, are becoming ever more striking in Qatar.

Just like the 1986 World Cup seemed to be a highlight reel for Maradona, Messi has made his mark on this tournament with a string of spectacular goals and assists, carrying Argentina’s class of 2022 into the final.

There have always been echoes of Maradona in Messi — his size, his dribbling skills, his quick feet, his wand of a left foot.

Add in the leadership and fighting qualities he has shown throughout the tournament and it really does feel like Messi is imbued with the spirit of Maradona as he closes in on soccer’s ultimate prize.

“Messi is playing the Maradona role in the World Cup,” Jorge Valdano, who was in Argentina’s victorious World Cup squad in 1986, said in an interview to TyC Sports channel.

That was clear to see in Messi’s latest stirring performance as Argentina beat Croatia 3-0 on Tuesday to advance to the World Cup final for the sixth time.

And nothing encapsulated his magnificence more than his assist for the third goal, scored by Julian Alvarez.

Receiving the ball on the touchline just inside Croatia’s half, Messi lifted the ball over the challenge of Josko Gvardiol and sprinted down the right flank. Gvardiol chased him, constantly grabbing the jersey of the Argentina captain, and was then bewitched as Messi dropped his shoulder and swiveled the other way to turn and burst into the area. Then came the simple cross with his right foot that Alvarez swept home.

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