Lionel Messi scored the opener and set up the other two, as he led Argentina in the World Cup final 3-0 against Croatia on Tuesday. Now he can crown his career by finally lifting the most important trophy in football.
Messi, 35, squeezed Argentina’s lead into the top right corner with a 34th-minute penalty after Julian Alvarez was brought down by goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic, breaking Croatia’s early dominance.
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 Messi set up strike partner Alvarez to score with a remarkable solo strike in midfield, and the pair combined again in the 69th minute when Alvarez intercepted after a dazzling run from Messi down the right.
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 win the trophy, having been in the losing squad in 2014, but has since finally won a first major title with Argentina, at last year’s Copa America. He said his fifth World Cup in Qatar would be his last.
“We trusted ourselves. We’re in the World Cup final – again – that’s what we wanted. It’s been a lot of fun progressing so far. We need to enjoy ourselves,” said Messi.
“It is a victory for my family. They have always stood by me when times were difficult. But it is also by the whole Argentine football family.”
Alvarez said: “I’m very happy. We deserved it, we played a great game. We can’t wait for the final.”
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.
“It was difficult to play against a team like Argentina after the first goal. And then there’s Messi, you could see his class from the third goal,” said Croatia defender Borna Sosa.
The teams had met twice before at the World Cup, both in the group stage, with Argentina winning 1-0 in 1998 and Croatia 3-0 in 2018.
The midfield was crowded and Croatia were aiming to get the hang of long periods of possession but without being threatening in a game that was played much more evenly than their cantankerous one against the Dutch.
Neither team dared to take big risks and it took until the 25th minute before Alvarez got a first attempt on target.
A few minutes later, however, the Croatian defense was completely exposed when Alvarez found himself alone in front of Livakovic after a long ball, he passed the goalkeeper who slammed him to the ground, leaving the Italian referee Daniele Orsato with the only choice but to decree a penalty.
Messi did not miss the golden opportunity and fired the ball into the top corner in a clear declaration of intent.
Five minutes later, Alvarez got the ball in his own half from Messi after Croatia’s corner kick, ran towards goal, and even though two Croatian defenders put their feet on the ball, it fell back gently to Alvarez both times to bring home the 2-0. .
Livakovic saved well from headers from Alexis Mac Allister and Messi before finally being beaten again in the 69th minute.
Messi won a duel against defender Josko Gvardiol on the left, ran into the penalty area and passed the ball to Alvarez to go home.
Mac Allister narrowly missed out on the fourth against Croatia, who never played but found no way out, with the 37-year-old Modric eliminated with around 10 minutes remaining.
“We did our best. The first half went well but we were 2-0 down. That was the problem. Congratulations to Argentina,” said Sosa.
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