Messi and Argentina blow past Croatia, advance to their second World Cup final in eight years
MÁS EN ESTA SECCIÓN
Lionel Messi is now just one win away from achieving his greatest feat — the World Cup trophy. Argentina awaits the winner of France and Morocco tomorrow afternoon at the final stage.
King Leo once again put Argentina on his back, scoring one and assisting another, with Manchester City youngster Julian Alvarez putting together a superb solo effort — that Diego Maradona would have been proud of — as they powered through Croatia 3-0, to advance to their first World Cup final since 2014, and their sixth in national history.
Messi is looking to avenge his 2014 finals loss to the Germans and at 35-years old, he has never looked better. He put in a vintage performance tonight as he flew past Croatia’s big and strong defenders.
The game started out well for the Croatians as they controlled possession and looked like they were up for the challenge against the Argentines, but a major mistake at the back by the Croatian keeper would award Argentina a penalty a few minutes after the half-hour mark.
Croatian keeper, Dominik Livakovic came at Álvarez, who was able to get in between the center backs and was in the clear chasing after a long lead ball, but the Man City youngster got to it first and flicked it past the goalkeeper with Livakovic taking him out in the process.
Messi took the penalty calmly as expected and powered a shot on his left and went to the top right corner and out of the way for Livakovic. This was Messi’s fifth goal of the tournament and also the one that made him Argentina’s highest scorer at the World Cup.
The Croatians did not panic, as they had been down at the tournament before and always managed a comeback, but that was not in the cards for tonight as they would concede a second just five minutes later.
The second goal from Álvarez was almost that of Maradona’s goal vs. England in the 1986 World Cup, when he took on the entire English defense as Alvarez picked the ball up in the center of the field and drove it down the middle. He beat a defender, got a deflection, past another defender, got one more lucky deflection, and then got enough on the ball to put it past Livakovic.
At this point, the Croatians had panic in their eyes as Argentina was starting to pick up momentum quickly. 2-0 down just before halftime, the Croatians were hurrying for the halftime whistle to come so that they could get a breather and regroup.
The Croatians came out a lot stronger in the second half as they would control possession with their strong midfield of Modric, Brozovic, and Kovacic, but it proved to not make much of a difference as they struggled to put anything together in the final third. They were missing a true number nine striker who could finish opportunities off.
King Leo, much like a veteran in this position should do, decided to turn on the jets one last time to put a nail in the Croatians’ coffin.
In the 69th minute, at the age of 35, Messi was running down the wing and fighting off Josko Gvardiol, and then slowed down just so he could beat him again and made it to the touch line before delivering a nutmeg pass to Álvarez in the middle for him to easily finish.
Though Messi had not scored the goal, all of his teammates jumped onto his back as if he had scored as it was a glimpse of vintage Messi. The Croatians did not have much of a response after going down 3-0 as many expected this game to be a lot tighter, with many pundits saying this would probably end up going to extra time and even penalties.
In what was Luka Modric’s final World Cup tournament for Croatia, the 37-year old came off shortly before the game had concluded, but should not be ashamed of leading his small nation to a World Cup semi-final and losing out to one of the greatest to ever play the game.
At the final whistle, you could almost see relief on Messi’s face, who is now where he wants to be — the World Cup final. Argentina now awaits the winner of France and Morocco tomorrow afternoon. This is his last chance to avenge 2014’s loss and to also bring home the trophy that he has desperately fought to capture since first putting on the Argentina shirt.
Messi stood in front of the fans with his arms outstretched in front of the large Argentine crowd. Instead of jumping around and yelling in happiness, they were for at least a few seconds, perfectly still as they looked on at their leader.
The World Cup final is Sunday, Dec. 18.