Lionel Messi moved ever so closer to a perfect end of his international career as his Argentina beat Croatia to reach the Final of the Qatar World Cup at Lusail Stadium.
Messi scored once as well as assisted one of Julian Alvarez’s two goals during the 3-0 win which earned him his 4th man of the match award at this World Cup, the most of any player.
The win takes Argentina into a sixth FIFA World Cup final with only Germany (8) having played more, a statement that would have seemed implausible following their opening game upset to Saudi Arabia.
Croatia, meanwhile, who finished second in Russia four years ago, exited the competition after putting together another surprise run to the semifinals.
After half chances for each side early in the game, Messi put his team ahead in the 34th minute from the penalty spot after Dominik Livaković impeded Alvarez inside the box.
His 5th goal at this year’s competition and 11th overall made Messi the highest scorer for Argentina in the World Cup’s breaking a tie with Gabriel Batistuta.
Just five minutes later Alvarez doubled his side’s lead with a surging 50m run from his own half which culminated in him scoring past Livaković after some lapsed defending and some lucky bounces.
Livakovic, who had carried Croatia into the semifinals with saves in their penalty shootout wins against Japan and Brazil, kept out Alexis Mac Allister’s header on the stroke of half-time to give his side a chance in the second half.
Argentina, however, made no mistakes like in their game against the Dutch and looked fairly comfortable with the lead as Croatia’s lack of attacking threat caught up with them.
Messi then put a bow on proceedings with another vintage run on the right side in the 69th minute before leaving the tournament’s best defender Joško Gvardiol bamboozled to set up Alvarez’s easy tap-in to seal the game.