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Rediff.com  » Sports » PIX: Argentina steamroll Croatia to enter World Cup final

PIX: Argentina steamroll Croatia to enter World Cup final

Last updated on: December 14, 2022 03:06 IST
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IMAGES from the FIFA World Cup semi-final between Argentina and Croatia played at Lusail Stadium on Tuesday.

Argentina's Lionel Messi celebrates with teammates after scoring their first goal from the penalty spot

IMAGE: Argentina's Lionel Messi celebrates with teammates after scoring their first goal from the penalty spot. Photograph: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Argentina's Julian Alvarez scored twice and earned a penalty converted by Lionel Messi as they swept past Croatia 3-0 on Tuesday and into the World Cup final where they will face either holders France or Morocco at the weekend.

 

While all eyes were on Argentina captain Messi and his fifth bid to win the one major trophy eluding him, it was Alvarez who stole the show, earning the penalty and scoring once in each half including after a scintillating 50-metre run.

Messi put away the spot kick in the 34th minute, after Alvarez was brought down by goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic, to become his country's all-time World Cup top scorer with 11 goals, before the 22-year-old Manchester City forward took matters into his own hands to add a second five minutes later.

Argentina's Paulo Dybala battles for possession with Croatia's Mateo Kovacic (left) and Lovro Majer 

IMAGE: Argentina's Paulo Dybala battles for possession with Croatia's Mateo Kovacic (left) and Lovro Majer. Photograph: Lars Baron/Getty Images

The pair combined perfectly in the 69th for Alvarez to tap in his second goal following a mesmerising Messi drive to the byline and perfect cut-back to make sure of Argentina's sixth World Cup final appearance.

Finalists as recently as 2014, Argentina will look to land a third world crown after victories in 1978 and 1986.

Julian Alvarez of Argentina celebrates after scoring the team's third goal

IMAGE: Argentina's Julian Alvarez celebrates after scoring the team's third goal. Photograph: Lars Baron/Getty Images

Clinching the world title would also elevate seven-time Ballon D'Or winner Messi to the mythical status that the late Diego Maradona enjoys in Argentina.

On Sunday they will face either defending champions France or surprise package Morocco, the first Arab country in a World Cup semi-final, who play each other on Wednesday.

Dejan Lovren

IMAGE: Argentina's Emiliano Martinez makes a save whilst under pressure from Croatia's Dejan Lovren who heads the ball. Photograph: Julian Finney/Getty Images

Croatia, the 2018 runners-up, wanted possession at the start, as they had done against Brazil in their quarter-final, and circulated the ball well but struggled to find a way into the Argentina box.

The South Americans, who have now won every World Cup semi-final they have contested, enjoyed fiery support from their fans who far outnumbered the Croats in the stands of Lusail stadium, also the site for Sunday's showcase.

They exploded with a load roar when Alvarez, who had their best chance in the 25th minute with a low shot, was brought down in the box for a penalty.

Lionel Messi shoots whilst under pressure from Josko Gvardiol

IMAGE: Lionel Messi shoots whilst under pressure from Josko Gvardiol. Photograph: Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

Messi, who drew level with Germany's Lothar Matthaeus as joint record holder for most World Cup appearances with his 25th game, fired past Livakovic to give Argentina the lead after Croatia's assistant coach Mario Mandzukic was sent off for dissent.

But the best was yet to come and it was Alvarez, nicknamed 'the spider', who delivered, picking up a Messi pass in his own half, sprinting 50 metres and weaving his way into the Croatia box, thanks to two lucky bounces and some sloppy defending, before tucking in the second goal.

Alexis Mac Allister is challenged by Josko Gvardiol.

IMAGE: Alexis Mac Allister is challenged by Josko Gvardiol. Photograph: Matthias Hangst/Getty Images

Livakovic, who had carried Croatia into the last four with saves in their penalty shootout wins against Japan and Brazil, did well to stop an Alexis Mac Allister header on the stroke of halftime that could have killed off the game after 45 minutes.

However, unlike their extra-time comeback heroics against tournament favourites Brazil, there was no way back this time for Croatia.

Julian Alvarez celebrates with Lionel Messi

IMAGE: Argentina's Julian Alvarez celebrates with Lionel Messi after scoring the team's second goal. Photograph: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Argentina were in no mood to squander their two-goal advantage as they had done against the Netherlands in the last eight, and they conceded no space.

Alvarez dashed any lingering Croatia hopes in the 69th, tapping in a cutback after Messi tricked his way past defender Josko Gvardiol on the right to pick out his team mate in the box who sealed the Balkan country's tournament exit.

Luka Modric of Croatia battles for possession with Julian Alvarez

IMAGE: Croatia's Luka Modric battles for possession with Argentina's Julian Alvarez. Photograph: Julian Finney/Getty Images

Lionel Messi catches his hamstring

IMAGE: Argentina's Lionel Messi holds his hamstring. Photograph: Julian Finney/Getty Images

Argentina's Lionel Messi runs past an opposition player

IMAGE: Argentina's Lionel Messi runs past an opposition player. Photograph: Buda Mendes/Getty Images

 

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