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Argentina 3, Croatia 0: Messi one win away from the elusive WCup title

origin 1Argentine Julian Alvarez (C) celebrates his side’s second place finish with teammate Lionel Messi during the Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup semi final football match between Argentina and Croatia at Lusail Stadium. Massimiliano Luna/telam/dpa

Lionel Messi scored the opener and set up Julian Alvarez for the other two, guiding Argentina into the World Cup final 3-0 against Croatia on Tuesday, keeping alive his dream of finally lifting the trophy to his fifth and probable last chance.

Messi, 35, squeezed Argentina’s lead into the top right corner with a 34th-minute penalty after Alvarez was brought down by goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic.

It was his fifth goal in the Qatar tournament, equal to Frenchman Kylian Mbappé, and eleventh overall at the World Cup for the Albiceleste, giving him a lead over previous record holder Gabriel Batistuta.

Five minutes later he fielded strike partner Alvarez to score with a remarkable solo effort across half the pitch, and the pair combined again in the 69th minute when Alvarez intercepted after a dazzling run from Messi.

Messi has tied Germany’s Lothar Matthäus in 25 World Cup matches, a record he can secure sole possession of in Sunday’s final against title holders France or surprise side Morocco who play the other semi-final on Wednesday.

Argentina reached the final for the sixth time, lifting the trophy in 1978 against the Netherlands and 1986 against West Germany, losing in 1930 to Uruguay and in 1990 and 2014 to Germany.

Messi wants to finally lift the trophy, having been in the losing squad in 2014. He has said the World Cup in Qatar will be his last.

Unlike the quarter-final against the Netherlands, which they won on penalties after squandering a 2-0 lead, did not allow Croatia to get back into the game and could have won by an even bigger margin but for Livakovic.

Luka Modric’s Croatia have finally run out of luck after beating Japan and record holders Brazil on penalties in the previous rounds. They will now play the third-place match on Saturday against the other semi-final loser.

origin 1Argentine Lionel Messi celebrates his side’s first goal during the Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup semi final football match between Argentina and Croatia at Lusail Stadium. Massimiliano Luna/telam/dpa
origin 1Julian Alvarez of Argentina celebrates his team’s second goal during the semi final Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup soccer match between Argentina and Croatia at Lusail Stadium. Martin Rickett/PA Wire/dpa
origin 1Argentine Lionel Messi celebrates his side’s first goal during the Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup semi final football match between Argentina and Croatia at Lusail Stadium. Robert Michael/dpa