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SPORTS | 13-12-2022 17:59

Álvarez and Messi send Argentina into World Cup final

Albiceleste reach World Cup final after 3-0 win over Croatia in Lusail; Two goals from Julián Álvarez and a Lionel Messi penalty secure victory; Argentina now one step from glory and will face France or Morocco on Sunday.

An inspired Lionel Messi scored from the penalty spot and Julián Álvarez struck twice as Argentina beat Croatia 3-0 on Tuesday to reach their second World Cup final in eight years.

The two-times world champions, backed by a huge majority of the crowd at the Lusail Stadium, produced their best display of the tournament to ensure they will meet the winner's of Wednesday's semi-final clash between holders France and Morocco in Sunday's final.

Messi, 35, who suffered defeat to Germany in the 2014 final, is desperate to crown his extraordinary career by winning his first World Cup and bringing the Albiceleste a third title to add to those won in 1978 and 1986.

And after getting his team on the way to victory with a perfectly struck first-half penalty he made sure of the win by brilliantly creating the third goal.

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 Fernández but Croatia keeper Dominik Livaković did well to get across and keep it out.

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

 

Scoring record

Livaković 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 Mbappé. 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, Álvarez picked the ball up inside his own half and began a long dribble goalwards.

With the Croatian defence backing off, Alvarez rode weak challenges from Josip Juranović and Borna Sosa and then slipped the ball past Livaković 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 Livaković to avoid a third.

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

Croatia coach Zlatko Dalić responded with a double substitution at the break, introducing Nikola Vlašić and Mislav Oršić, and five minutes later and threw on striker Bruno Petković.

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

Messi saved his best for last though, tormenting Joško Gvardial down the right before leaving the 20-year-old defender behind and pulling the ball back to Álvarez 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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