Argentina have beaten Croatia 3-0 at Lusail’s Iconic Stadium to claim a place in the World Cup final on Sunday.
They will discover their opponents after Wednesday night’s semifinal match between France and Morocco.
In a muscular game between two physical sides, Croatia played with tenacity and heart but were not strong enough to hold off Argentina.
Messi makes history with penalty
After half an hour of directing the game, Croatia lost control. Ivan Perisic failed to catch Argentina goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez off the line, the counter was sprung, the players hurtled down the pitch, and Julian Alvarez found himself one-on-one with Croatia’s goalkeeper, Dominik Livakovic.
In a split-second, Livakovic came off his line and into the path of Alvarez, setting up a collision. Livakovic reached for the ball and challenged the player. He could not make contact with the ball, but did with Alvarez. Foul. Yellow card for the keeper. Penalty for Argentina.
Lionel Messi — who else? — stepped forward and delivered a truly unstoppable strike. His eleventh goal at a World Cup took him past the great Gabriel Batistuta’s Argentinian record for most World Cup goals.
And the whole game changed in that moment.
Alvarez scores solo
Just five minutes later, Alvarez demonstrated his persistence once again. A stunning run that began on his own goal line, picking up a pass from Messi in the Argentinian half, a straight-line run at a pace that meant he had no option but to go it alone. Three defenders to beat, and not one could touch him.
He got two lucky bounces as he closed in on the penalty area, then another to toe it past Livakovic in goal, doubling Argentina’s lead.
It seemed like Argentina only had two meaningful kicks in the first half, but they were enough to wrap the game up.
Messi magic sets up Alvarez again
The second half picked up as the first left off, with Argentina in control.
In the 73rd minute, Messi picked up the ball on the left under challenge from Josko Gvardiol and pulled off another trademark run: with startling speed and control, he danced towards the box.
Gvardiol had no chance. Messi turned, jigged along the goal line, and passed it off for Alvarez to finish. Another special moment from probably the best player to ever play this game.
Modric led battling Croatia
That is not to say Croatia made it easy for Messi’s men. Luka Modric did what he does best, commanding the midfield and leading by example. They worked hard and created occasional chances but lacked the ability to capitalise on those rare opportunities when they fell to them.
They will not be packing their bags just yet, however. Croatia will be back in action at the Khalifa International Stadium on Saturday for the third-place playoff.
Meanwhile, Argentina have a date with destiny on Sunday, 15:00 GMT, back at Lusail’s Iconic Stadium.