Argentina defeats Croatia to reach the World Cup final, keeping Lionel Messi’s last-dance fantasy alive.

In Tuesday’s semifinal, Argentina defeated Croatia 3-0 to keep Lionel Messi’s World Cup dream alive.

Argentina defeated Croatia 3-0 in the semifinal on Tuesday, ensuring that Lionel Messi’s lifelong ambition of leading his country to a World Cup triumph will continue to this day in Qatar 2022.

Argentina took a dominating lead into halftime thanks to two first-half goals—the first a Messi penalty and the second a solo effort from Julian Alvarez—and Croatia never seemed to be able to catch up.

With Argentina’s third goal in the second half, which came after a superb Messi assist, Alvarez gave his side and the 35-year-old captain a chance to put the 2014 final failure behind them and win Argentina’s first World Cup trophy since 1986.

Messi felt his left hamstring throughout portions of the match, but you wouldn’t have known it from the way his crazy, twisting run befuddled one of this tournament’s top defenders, Joko Gvardiol, to set up Argentina’s third goal.

Argentina defeats Croatia to reach the World Cup final, keeping Lionel Messi’s last-dance fantasy alive.

Even though Messi is approaching the end of his career and his near-superhuman abilities are certainly waning, the small magician can still produce brilliant moments when his nation most needs them.

For a country of 45 million people who regard him as not far from a god, his goal against Mexico in the group stages, the assist against the Netherlands in the quarterfinals, and his entire performance in Tuesday’s semifinal have given them even more unforgettable memories.

According to the Argentine embassy in Qatar, up to 40,000 Argentina supporters may have flown to Qatar for this World Cup, and it seems like all of them were there at the Lusail Stadium on Tuesday night.

The Argentina bench and coaching staff started to join in with the rhythmic songs and chants that were being shouted from the bleachers as the game moved further into injury time and it became clear that Argentina would win.

Argentina’s players applauded their adoring supporters as they stood in front of the enormous wall of blue and white jerseys after the final whistle.

It’s hard to imagine that Argentina is the same squad that dropped its initial group stage encounter, 2-1, to Saudi Arabia only three weeks before. That performance was so lackluster and uninspiring that some questioned if Argentina would even advance beyond the group stage.

Now, Messi will have one more opportunity to win the title he so desperately wants, either against France or Morocco.

A meeting with fate

Both Messi and Croatia’s Luka Modri have been their nation’s leaders during defeat in the World Cup finals, and this would be their last opportunity to win football’s most cherished trophy.

Before Qatar 2022, neither team was among the favorites for the tournament, but Croatia shocked the world by winning four years ago and repeated the feat in the previous round of the competition by defeating tournament favorite Brazil on penalties.

Along with Mateo Kovacic and Marcelo Brozovic, Modri—an outstanding Croatian player and a living hero in the little Balkan nation—formed perhaps the greatest midfield in Qatar. Modri is battle-tested in the biggest games.

Argentina has also improved as the competition has gone on, though it was hard to imagine it could go much worse following the shocking loss to Saudi Arabia.

The squad, which now seems to hope that Messi’s last dance will conclude on Sunday in triumph, is hardly recognizable from the one that entered the field that day.

Argentina defeats Croatia to reach the World Cup final, keeping Lionel Messi’s last-dance fantasy alive.

Argentina launched a counterattack after Borna Sosa’s weak cross into the box. Alvarez ran three-quarters of the length of the field and, after two fortunate ricochets in the area, buried the ball beyond Livakovic.

It would take something particularly extraordinary, even for a squad accustomed to conjuring football miracles, to come back from this one. Only a brilliant reaction stop from Livakovic kept Croatia’s score from going worse before halftime.

However, Croatia didn’t contribute much offensively in the second half due to drained aggressive play and a tenacious Argentine defense; their execution holdout lasted till the 70th minute.

Before finding Alvarez inside the box to excite the Argentina supporters inside the Lusail Stadium, Messi picked up the ball deep and exhausted Gvardiol.

Argentina, who many considered to be inferior to other World Cup competitors, wasn’t expected to get to the championship game in Qatar, but Messi’s tenacity and focus have contributed to that outcome.

Although Croatia had a slight advantage over the other side at the outset of the game, its players had already put in the maximum amount of time in Qatar, defeating Brazil and Japan on penalties after two tiresome periods of extra time.

Early on in the Lusail Stadium, their drained legs seemed to be showing, and any error at this level is sure to be expensive.

That turned out to be the case for Croatia because, oddly enough, Modri fumbled the ball away in midfield and Gvardiol failed to follow Alvarez, leaving Dominik Livakovic—who had already scored twice for Croatia in the shootout in Qatar—exposed in a one-on-one matchup with the Manchester City striker.

When Livakovic’s extended leg pulled the striker down after Alvarez pushed the ball around him, Messi made no mistake in converting the ensuing penalty by slamming the ball high into the top corner.

As Argentina’s all-time top goal scorer in World Cup finals, Messi has now surpassed Gabriel Batistuta with his 11th World Cup goal.

Alvarez made it 2-0 only five minutes later, giving Croatia little chance to stay in the game.

From Haotees

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