It was a night of magic from Lionel Messi as Argentina booked their place in the World Cup final with a ruthless 3-0 win over Croatia. The scoreline might flatter than the actual game itself but it was one in which the South Americans seemed to be in ascendency for virtually all of the match.
Prior to the match, much was none about Croatia’s stubborn defence and how they had the potential to stun Argentina, especially after their triumph against Brazil in the quarterfinals. However, it was quite a different story.
Runners-up four years ago in Russia, Croatia have built a reputation for themselves as specialists in taking knockout matches deep, eight of their last nine in major tournaments going to extra-time.
But it was never to be the case after Argentina took complete control of the semi-final with a five-minute spell in the opening period. Lionel Messi lashed home a penalty for his fifth goal of the tournament, before Alvarez doubled the lead with a solo run sliced with a touch of luck as well.
If Croatia thought they could do a ‘Netherlands’, Argentina were to have the final say as well.
There was not to be another comeback this time around as Argentina put the game beyond doubt after the break and a second for Alvarez, after some Messi magic where he breezed past Josko Gvardiol with ease.
A look at Messi’s record-breaking night
Messi’s strike means he is now Argentina’s all-time top goalscorer at the World Cup with 12 goals. The mercurial Argentina also made his 25th appearance at the World Cup today, tying Lothar Matthäus for the most appearances in the competition’s history. He will now make that record his own if he features in the final on Sunday.
The goal was the 96th for Messi in Argentina colours and the 791st of his playing career.
More importantly, his goal also tied him level with France’s Kylian Mbappe at five goals in the tournament, leaving him well in contention to win the Golden Boot award.
Argentina will be at the Lusail Stadium on Sunday, when they will play either France or Morocco in football’s biggest match. This might as well be Messi' final hoorah in the competition and it will be fairytale stuff if Argentina go on to win the ultimate prize in his final attempt. The stage is set for a breathtaking competition, which has served much drama so far in Qatar.