Argentina advanced to the World Cup final with a 3-0 semifinal victory over Croatia at Lusail Stadium, thanks to Lionel Messi and Julian Alvarez.
Croatia, aiming for back-to-back finals after their 2018 triumph, dominated the first half-hour, but goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic hauled down Alvarez as the Manchester City striker hoisted the ball over him.
Livakovic was his country’s hero in shootout victories against Japan and Brazil, but he was left with no chance when Messi smashed his penalty into the top-right corner to join Kylian Mbappe atop the Golden Boot scoring race.
On the counter-attack, Alvarez tenaciously bundled his way through a disorganized Croatian defense to double the lead, and the two goal scorers combined delightfully in the 69th minute, with Messi tormenting Josko Gvardiol with a winding dribble before teeing up Alvarez for his fourth of the tournament.
ARG — Lionel Messi (34 mins, pen)
ARG — Julian Alvarez (39 mins)
ARG — Julian Alvarez (69 mins)
Messi has five goals and has surpassed Gabriel Batistuta as Argentina’s all-time best World Cup striker. Following that, he will have one more opportunity to emulate fellow great Diego Maradona and claim the legendary gold medal.
On Tuesday, another all-time great was preparing his path to triumph on the pitch, as Luka Modric choreographed a calm beginning for Croatia, despite their lack of cutting edge when compared to Argentina’s explosive front two.
Dejan Lovren carelessly passed Alvarez onside, and Livakovic hauled him down as he poked towards goal. Penalties have never been Messi’s strong suit, but he produced a precise strike to meet the situation and score his 11th World Cup goal overall.
If the first goal was the result of hours of practice at opulent training grounds, the second was conceived on the fields of Calchin, Cordoba. After Marcelo Brozovic’s cross from a short corner was blocked, Alvarez took control near the halfway line. Nahuel Molina’s storming surge down the outside shocked Croatia, and Alvarez fought on to finish alone, overcoming challenges from Josip Juranovic and Borna Sosa.
Messi almost scored his second goal, swapping passes with Enzo Fernandez and drawing a fantastic save from Livakovic at his near post, but he had one more bit of magic to give Alvarez a far more routine second goal than his first.
Gvardiol’s performances in this tournament have led to transfer speculation putting a £100million ($123m) price tag on his head. But he found himself bamboozled as Messi beat him, checked back and spun around him again to leave a chance on a plate for Alvarez. The final awaits for the great man.