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LUSAIL, Qatar — The Argentina national team had put its fans through plenty of nail-biting moments in its previous two knockout-round victories at the 2022 World Cup, but on Tuesday the Albiceleste showed they can grab an early lead and protect it.
First-half goals from Lionel Messi and Julian Alvarez, the second a stunning half-field run and finish, helped lead Argentina to a 3-0 World Cup semifinal victory over Croatia at Lusail Stadium.
Argentina will make its sixth appearance in a World Cup final on Sunday and search for its third title. The Albiceleste will play the winner of Wednesday’s semifinal between reigning champion France and underdog Morocco, searching for their first World Cup title since Diego Maradona’s historic title win in 1986.
The Lusail Stadium felt like Buenos Aires on the night, with the Argentina-dominated crowd urging Messi and his teammates to deliver the win and book a place in Sunday’s final.
They did just that.
Messi and Alvarez combined for all three Argentina goals, including a Messi assist to Alvarez on the game-clinching third goal in the 69th minute.
It was Alvarez’s first goal that served as the killer blow, giving Argentina a 2-0 lead after stunning dribble through the Croatian defense and close-range finish on a sequence that began with a Messi touch at midfield that sprang the Manchester City striker on his jaw-dropping run.
Alvarez helped Argentina open the scoring just five minutes prior to that when he drew a penalty kick following a foul by Croatia goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic. Messi made no mistake from the penalty spot in the 34th minute, blasting home his 11th-career World Cup goal, a new record for an Argentinian player.
Tuesday’s victory completes a march to the World Cup final for an Argentina team that began the World Cup with a shocking loss to Saudi Arabia. The South American champions took that wake-up call and ran through a series of impressive performances, capped with what was arguably their best match of the tournament.
Now Argentina has one more match to go in order to try and deliver Messi the World Cup title that has eluded him, and secure his legacy and claim to the title of best soccer player of all time.
The final won’t be easy though. The Albiceleste will either face the reigning champions from France, or a Morocco team that has put together a dream run to become the first African nation to reach the World Cup semifinals.