Creative Argentina defeated Croatia 3-0 on Tuesday to advance to its second World Cup final in eight years with to goals from Lionel Messi and Julian Alvarez. Messi converted a penalty and Alvarez netted two goals.
The two-time world champions, who had the support of the vast majority of spectators at the Lusail Stadium, put on their best performance of the competition to guarantee that they would face the winner of Wednesday’s semifinal match between the defending champions France and Morocco in Sunday’s final.
Messi, 35, who lost to Germany in the 2014 World Cup final, is eager to cap off an exceptional career by helping Argentina win its third World Cup, joining titles won in 1978 and 1986.
Additionally, he ensured the victory by superbly setting up the third goal after setting his team on the path to victory with a perfectly executed first-half penalty.
Croatia, who finished second in Russia four years ago, paid the price for some very bad defence by exiting the tournament in the semifinals for the second time after losing to France in their inaugural match in 1998.
Enzo Fernandez’s low pot attempt from beyond the box in the 25th minute was the game’s first indication of life, but Croatian goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic did well to reach over and block it.
It was a close match until Fernandez lofted a straightforward ball over the top, which the Croatian defense couldn’t handle. Alvarez pounced on it and knocked the ball past the charging Livakovic, who then collided with the striker, and Italian referee Daniele Orsato pointed to the spot.
Record of scoring
The Argentine’s brilliantly placed shot went high into the net to give his team the lead in the 34th minute, despite Livakovic’s accurate prediction that Messi would move to his left.
With his fifth goal of the competition, Messi is now tied for the lead with Kylian Mbappe of France in scoring. He surpassed Gabriel Batistuta to become Argentina’s all-time leading scorer in the World Cup with his 11th career goal, which came in a record-equaling 25th World Cup appearance.
Five minutes later, Argentina extended their advantage when Alvarez scooped up the ball within his own half and started a lengthy dribble goalward following a break from a corner.
Alvarez overcame feeble challenges from Josip Juranovic and Borna Sosa as the Croatian defense retreated, slipped the ball past Livakovic, and enraged the boisterous Argentine audience.
Then, Alexis Mac Allister came dangerously near with an angled header from a corner, forcing Livakovic to make a fantastic save to prevent a third.
Before the interval, Croatia’s only attempt at retaliation was a low cross-shot by Juranovic, to which Emiliano Martinez responded skillfully.
In response, Zlatko Dalic of Croatia made two substitutions: Nikola Vlasic and Mislav Orsic came on at halftime, while Bruno Petkovic was added five minutes later.
Although they were good plays, Argentina still appeared to be the more threatening team when Messi forced a save at the near post following a quick interchange with Fernandez.
However, Messi left his best for last, harassing 20-year-old defender Josko Gvardial down the right before leaving him behind and passing the ball back to Alvarez, who calmly buried the goal.