Argentina’s progress to the World Cup semi-finals led Lionel Messi to say Diego Maradona is “pushing us from heaven”.
Argentina have not won the tournament since Maradona inspired their second triumph in 1986, and this is the first finals since his passing two years ago.
Albiceleste captain Messi has long been compared to the country’s other great number 10, with his performances in Qatar encouraging optimism of a long-awaited third title.
Messi provided a sensational assist for Nahuel Molina against the Netherlands in Friday’s quarter-final, then doubled his side’s lead from the penalty spot.
But Argentina were given a major scare as Wout Weghorst’s dramatic double sent the tie to penalties.
Emiliano Martinez made a pair of saves, allowing Argentina to scrape through before celebrating on the pitch in front of their fans – with Maradona prominent in their thoughts.
“We leave that on the pitch with our people,” Messi said. “We enjoyed that moment both here and in Argentina.
“People are full of enthusiasm, we are among the four semi-finalists.
“Now we have a weight off our shoulders, and we have been saying this from the beginning: Diego is pushing us from heaven.”
Messi knew how close Argentina came to elimination, although he did not feel the match should have gone that far as Weghorst’s second goal came from a controversial 101st-minute free-kick.
“There was a lot of disappointment when they drew level, which was very unfair,” Messi said. “It came from a set-piece which I didn’t think was a foul.
“I don’t want to speak about referees, you can be punished and you can’t be honest. He wasn’t up to the standard and he was hard on us.
“When Lautaro Martinez scored, there was a huge weight off our chests. We could’ve been out after being 2-0 ahead.”
Messi had also been critical of referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz in a television interview with beIN SPORTS. Lahoz showed 14 yellow cards and a red in a hot-tempered encounter.
“We feared before the game because we knew about this referee and FIFA should review that,” Messi said. “They cannot use a referee like this at this stage of the tournament because he was not in control of the match.”