Magical Messi and Julian Alvarez help Argentina defeat Croatia 3-0

Lionel Scaloni was visibly impressed with Lionel Messi’s performance in the semifinal

Lionel Messi’s masterclass helped Argentina prevail 3-0 over Croatia at the Lusail Stadium in the first semi-final of FIFA World Cup 2022 on Wednesday. 

A penalty in the 34th minute from Messi, followed by a brace from Julian Alvarez, assisted by the little magician for both goals were enough to take Argentina into the final wherein they will faceoff against the winner of the second semifinal between Morocco and defending champions France on Sunday. 

The last time Croatia met Argentina at the FIFA World Cup, Luka Modric’s side won 3-0 and it was the Real Madrid star who shone the brightest, but in their latest meeting, the tables turned, and how, as all things went in the way of Messi, who will be raring to get his hands on the elusive World Cup trophy. 

Given the occasion of the semifinal, both teams began the match with caution, as Zlatko Dalic’s men dominated the possession early on, while La Albiceleste sat back and soaked up the pressure.

As the first half progressed, Messi and Co grew into the game and Enzo Fernandes registered the first shot on target as he tried to curl one into the bottom right corner from distance, but Dominik Livakovic made a comfortable save in the 25th minute. 

Shortly afterwards, Lionel Scaloni’s men had a golden opportunity to take the lead as Julian Alvarez was adjudged to have been fouled inside the box by Livakovic. The Croatian defence was split apart by a long ball as they failed to keep up with Alvarez who ran through on goal before being brought down by the custodian. 

The Argentine skipper took the responsibility upon himself and duly dispatched the resulting spot-kick to put his side in the lead. Barely four minutes later, Alvarez again proved to be too hot to handle as Modric’s side was caught on a break following a corner, the ball was fed to Messi whose toe-poked pass somehow reached the Manchester City forward near the halfway line. 

Alvarez showed great determination to run all the way towards the Croatian box, beating three defenders courtesy of his grit, and some lucky deflections, before smashing past a hapless Livakovic. 

Dalic’s men had been resolute through their campaign so far, but in the space of 10-odd minutes, they completely imploded. Scaloni’s side meanwhile led 2-0 at the break, they could have been three goals to the good, but the Croatian goalie showed great reflexes to deny Alexis Mac Allister following a corner, minutes before the end of the half. 

Into the second half, another super stop from Livakovic in the 58th minute saw him deny Messi from close range as the Paris Saint-Germain ace dribbled past two men, and left Josko Gvardiol chasing shadows after a quick exchange with Alvarez but was denied at the near post. 

Shortly after the hour mark, perhaps in a telling manner of the Croatian team’s woes, Dejan Lovren had two attempts to grab a consolation for his side, but Emiliano Martinez and Nicolas Otamendi did their job to save their clean sheet. Meanwhile, Messi and Co kept knocking at the door and soon they wrapped up the contest with a magical assist from the former Barcelona stalwart, as Alvarez completed his brace. 

The talismanic forward received the ball near the byline and drove through on goal surrounded by two players, including Gvardiol. He feinted a move towards his right and moved in the opposite direction, and slalomed his way into the opposition box, before teeing up Alvarez for the third goal which sealed their place in the summit clash. 

Scaloni used the opportunity to give a run-in to the likes of Paulo Dybala who nearly set up a fourth for Max Allister but the latter’s half-volley sailed narrowly wide of the mark, seven minutes before the end of regulation time. 

As referee Daniele Orsato blew the final whistle, it was greeted by a loud cheer from Argentine fans, who were jubilant after seeing their side reach a sixth FIFA World Cup final, second only since the 2014 edition when they fell narrowly short against Germany. 

With Messi playing like a man possessed in the semi-final, a similar performance in the summit clash may well end up earning him the biggest prize in world football.