One is inspired Lionel Messi Goals from the penalty spot and a brace from Julian Alvarez sent Argentina into their second World Cup final in eight years with a 3-0 win over Croatia on Tuesday. The two-time world champions produced their best display of the tournament, backed by a huge crowd at the Lucille Stadium as they look to meet the winner of Wednesday’s semi-final clash between holders France and Morocco in Sunday’s final. The 35-year-old Messi, who was beaten by Germany in the 2014 final, is desperate to crown his remarkable career by winning his first World Cup and leading Argentina to a third title to add to the winners in 1978 and 1986.
And after a perfectly struck penalty in the first half to set the team on course for victory, he sealed the win with a superb third goal.
Croatia, runners-up in Russia four years ago, paid the price for some unusually poor defending as they exited the last four for the second time since their 1998 defeat by France in their first tournament.
In the 25th minute, Enzo Fernandez’s low pot shot from outside the box by the Croatia keeper showed no signs of life. Dominic Livakovic Better to get across and stick it out. It was a tight affair but then a simple lofted ball over the top from Fernandez caught out the Croatian defence, Alvarez pounced on it, the ball slipped past the advancing Livakovic who collided with the striker and Italian referee Daniele Orsato pointed to the spot.
Livakovic correctly guessed that Messi would go to his left but his dive came to nothing as the Argentine’s sweet strike drove into the net in the 34th minute for a 1-0 lead.
It was Messi’s fifth goal of the tournament, making him joint top scorer with France. Kylian Mbappé. His 11th career goal — a record-tying 25th World Cup appearance — also took him past Gabriel Batistuta is Argentina’s all-time leading World Cup goalscorer.
Five minutes later, Argentina doubled their lead when, following a corner break, Alvarez picked up the ball in his own half and launched a long dribble towards goal.
With the Croatian defense backed off, Alvarez rode weak challenges from Josip Juranovic and Borna Sosa before slipping the ball past Livakovic to send the raucous Argentine crowd into a frenzy. Alexis McAllister then went close with an angled header from a corner, forcing a third save from Livakovic.
All Croatia could muster in response, before the break, was a low Juranovic cross shot which Emiliano Martinez responded well. Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic responded with a double substitution at the break, introducing Nikola Vlasic and Mislav Orsic and throwing on the striker five minutes later. Bruno Petkovic.
They were positive steps but still Argentina looked more dangerous with Messi, after a quick exchange with Fernandez, forcing a save at the near post. Messi saved his best for last by tormenting Josco Guardial down the right before slotting the ball past the 20-year-old defender to Alvarez, who calmly slotted home.
Croatia is over but it’s clear that Argentina and Messi are peaking just in time for the biggest game of their lives.
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