Argentina outclass Croatia to reach World Cup final

Argentina reached the World Cup final after thrashing Croatia 3-0 in the first semifinal played at Lusail Stadium in Qatar on Tuesday – as Lionel Messi eyes the ultimate glory of lifting the football’s biggest prize come Sunday.

Messi and as well as the Argentinian fans cannot forget the disappointment they had in the 2014 World Cup final when Germany defeated them with a solitary extra time goal.

However, the star striker is now in a position to repeat the heroics of Maradona who clinched the prestigious trophy for his country in 1986.

But there is draught since then for the football-crazy South American nations as lost twice in finals – 1990 and 2014 – during the 36-year-long period.

Ironically, it were the Germans who spoiled their dreams on both occasions – as West Germany in 1990 and as Germany in 2014.

There another aspect which needs attention for a comparison between 1986 and 2022 – that is Maradona and Messi: Maradona in 1986 had five goals and five assists while Messi in 2022 has so far five goals and three assists with one match – the final – to go.

 On Tuesday, two goals by swashbuckling striker Julian Alvarez and a Messi penalty gave Argentina a victory over 2018 runners-up to set up a showpiece meeting with France or Morocco on Sunday.

The two-times world champions, backed by a huge majority of the crowd, produced their best display of the tournament.

Croatia, runners-up in Russia four years ago, paid the price for some untypically poor defending as they went out in the last four for the second time after their 1998 loss to France in their maiden tournament.

It was not until the 25th minute when the game showed signs of life with a low pot shot from outside the box by Enzo Fernandez but Croatia keeper Dominik Livakovic did well to get across and keep it out.

It was a tight affair but then a simple lofted ball over the top from Fernandez caught out the Croatian defence, Alvarez latched on to it, knocking the ball past the advancing Livakovic who collided with the striker and Italian referee Daniele Orsato pointed to the spot.

Livakovic guessed correctly that Messi would go to his left but his dive was in vain as the Argentine’s sweetly struck drive flew high into the net to put his side 1-0 up in the 34th minute.

It was Messi’s fifth goal of the tournament, making him joint top-scorer with France’s Kylian Mbappe. His 11th career goal – in a record-equalling 25th World Cup appearance – also took him past Gabriel Batistuta as Argentina’s all-time World Cup top scorer.

Five minutes later, Argentina doubled their lead when, after a break from a corner, Alvarez picked the ball up inside his own half and began a long dribble goal wards.

With the Croatian defence backing off, Alvarez rode weak challenges from Josip Juranovic and Borna Sosa and then slipped the ball past Livakovic to send the heavily Argentine crowd into delirium.

Alexis Mac Allister then went close with an angled header from a corner, forcing a fine save out of Livakovic to avoid a third.

All Croatia could muster in response, before the break, was a low Juranovic cross-shot that Emiliano Martinez reacted well to.

Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic responded with a double substitution at the break, introducing Nikola Vlasic and Mislav Orsic, and five minutes later and threw on striker Bruno Petkovic.

They were positive moves but still Argentina looked the more dangerous with Messi, after a swift exchange with Fernandez, forcing a save at the near post.

Messi saved his best for last though, tormenting Josko Gvardial down the right before leaving the 20-year-old defender behind and pulling the ball back to Alvarez who coolly slotted home.

Croatia were finished but it was clear that Argentina and Messi are peaking just in time for the biggest game of their lives.


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