- Lionel Messi thumped home penalty for Argentina lead
- Julian Alvarez struck either side of half-time to wrap-up comprehensive victory
- South Americans will target third World Cup in final on Sunday
Argentina 3-0 Croatia
Goals: Argentina: Messi (34 pen), Alvarez (39, 69)
The dream that appeared to be going up in smoke when Saudi Arabia inflicted the shock of this FIFA World Cup™ is not only alive, it is 90 minutes from becoming reality. Lionel Messi is one match from crowning an extraordinary career with the prize he yearns the most.
What’s more, with the penalty he scored to put his team in front here, Messi drew level with Kylian Mbappe on five goals in the Golden Boot tussle. The Golden Ball for best player? That’s within his reach, too.
Messi was outstanding at Lusail Stadium and so were Argentina, emerging from an even, edgy opening half-hour to grab the game by the scruff of the neck and never let go. Dominic Livakovic made a straight forward stop from Enzo Fernandez after 25 minutes, while all Croatia could muster for their superior possession share was a deft effort floated too high by Ivan Perisic after Luka Modric prompted a fluent counter.
That would be the most we saw of Croatia’s renowned technicians, ultimately suffocated by the speed and aggression and control of Lionel Scaloni’s incessant players.
Argentina led when Croatia centre-halves Dejan Lovren and Josko Gvardiol lost their bearings following a ball over the top, allowing Julian Alvarez to escape. Alvarez toed the ball past Livakovic and the keeper resorted to illegal means to prevent the striker collecting it on the other side.
Livakovic has established a reputation as a penalty specialist after four shootout stops at this tournament. But the 27-year-old didn’t have a hope with Messi’s strike, belted into the roof of the net for a fourth goal from the spot – including shootouts – in Qatar.
Croatia’s attempt to respond ultimately came back to bite them. A corner was worked to Marcelo Brozovic on the right of the box, but the cross was cleared and eventually helped on by Messi, applying a touch a fraction before he was upended.
Alvarez picked up possession on halfway and immediately made straight for goal. He was helped by right-back Nahuel Molina displaying the endurance of a cross-country runner to charge the length of the field, distracting defenders and clearing Alvarez’s path.
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Story first published on: Fifa.com