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SPORTS | 14-12-2022 12:00

Julián Álvarez arrives as Messi's partner in crime

In 1986, Diego Maradona had Jorge Valdano. Now Lionel Messi has found his own accomplice: Julián Álvarez.

The bad news for whoever faces Argentina in Sunday's World Cup final is that Lionel Messi now has a partner-in-crime.

Holders France face Morocco in the other semi-final on Wednesday and as they watched from their hotels as Julián Álvarez scored twice in Tuesday's 3-0 semi-final win over Croatia, they must have had a sinking feeling.

Having earned the penalty which allowed Messi to open the scoring, Álvarez then exposed Croatia's defence, running with the ball from inside his own half to make it 2-0.

The number nine then wrapped up the win, in the second half, with a clinical finish from inside the box after being set up by some genius wing-play from Messi.

The 22-year-old Manchester City forward now has four goals in this tournament, placing him just one behind joint top scorers Messi and France's Kylian Mbappé.

"We deserved this. We played a great game today. We're in the final, which is what we wanted and now we need to rest and hope for a great game on Sunday," said Álvarez after his greatest night in the famous light-blue-and-white-striped shirt.

"I'm happy on a personal level and for the group. We are happy with the way we are playing. We deserve to be in the final. That's what we wanted," he added.

Álvarez, born in Calchín, Córdoba Province, has had to fight his way into the starting line-up at this tournament with coach Lionel Scaloni initially preferring Inter Milan's Lautaro Martínez.

The forward started on the bench in the shock 2-1 defeat to Saudi Arabia that opened Argentina's group matches and the 2-0 win over Mexico that steadied the Albiceleste's campaign.

 

'Conquer the world'

The Manchester City star made a first start in the 2-0 win over Poland that secured passage to the last 16 – scoring the second goal – and has been in the starting line-up since.

He scored the crucial second goal in the 2-1 victory over Australia in the round of 16 and then caused the Netherlands plenty of problems in the quarter-final.

Aside from the two goals on Tuesday, both taken in ice-cool fashion, Álvarez stretched the Croatian defence with his constant running – from deep with the ball and across the line without it.

It was a performance that left Argentina coach Scaloni purring.

"Julián played very well, not just because of his goals but also because he worked so hard to help against their three midfielders," Scaloni said. "At his age it is normal that he wants to conquer the world. He is a boy who will do whatever you say to him."

Diego Maradona had four-goal Jorge Valdano as his striker in the 1986 team and now Messi has found his own accomplice. It is a role that the former River Plate forward is clearly relishing.

After taking the applause of the huge support at the Lusail Stadium, Álvarez set his sights on Sunday's challenge.

"Everyone is going crazy, like the whole country. This is a joy for everyone. We are very happy with what we are achieving and we are going for more"

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by Simon Evans, AFP

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