LUSAIL, Qatar ( Associated Press) — With superb galloping and an innate goalscorer’s instinct, Julian Alvarez has led Argentina to another World Cup final.
Lionel Messi and Alvarez, a 22-year-old dynamo, were a pair of vulnerable poachers as they stitched together a partnership that shattered all hopes of the Croatian stringing together back-to-back finals.
Alvarez said, “I’m happy, we deserved it.” “We are in the final and that is what we wanted.”
Recently breaking into the starting XI of the Lionel Scaloni-led side, the youngest of the Albiceleste’s attacking duo had a memorable match at the Lucel Stadium, without shrinking from an event of such magnitude. It led to a penalty that 35-year-old captain Messi converted with his left foot and then netted a brace to certify a 3-0 win.
Alvarez became the youngest player to score two goals in a World Cup semi-final since 17-year-old Pelé scored a hat-trick for Brazil against France in 1958.
Messi played with Alvarez holding his head after the Manchester City newcomer scored his first goal and enthusiastically hugged him after the second.
Alvarez’s progress in a devastating five-minute spell saw the match even in Argentina’s favor in the first half hour. At 2-0, many Croatians scattered across the pitch, feeling helpless as their World Cup ambitions faded.
In the face-off, Argentina provided Messi with a second chance to go down the field for the title, missing out on their huge parchments. El Díaz was defeated by Germany in the 2014 final at the Maracana Stadium.
Until Álvarez revolutionized the game, Croatia had initiative in the game through pulsations administered by a midfielder circuit led by Luka Modric. The Argentine attack took time in the carburetor.
“Spider” Álvarez was alert for a spike when Modrić was caught in a struggle and the ball drifted, Enzo Fernández fired a lofted pass over the defence.
Álvarez arrived quicker than goalkeeper Dominik Livkovic, who possessed a dangerous physical presence. Although the Argentine’s fine touch did not reach the net, Álvarez scored a penalty that Messi converted. 1-0 on 34 minutes.
A few minutes later, Alvarez was a whirlwind after his teammates cleared a Croatian corner kick. After receiving from Messi, he took the ball to the center circle and faced off. The Croatian defenders reacted slowly, first Josip Juranovic, and then Borna Sosa falling behind as he desperately tried to cut the ball away. Alvarez was there for everyone.
On this play, goalkeeper Livakovic chose not to come out and Álvarez took advantage of his speed to loft the ball through.
Alvarez said, “When I caught it (the ball), I saw a lot of people coming my way, luckily I was able to keep it.”
Alvarez ran to the corner kick spot to celebrate, where Messi was on hand to greet him like a big brother.
The two met again after 69 minutes. Between them he left five defenders stranded, mostly due to a dribble from Messi, who took him to the end line before heading into the middle of the area to deflect Alvarez at will.
Messi equaled Kylian Mbappe as the tournament’s top scorer, with both scoring five goals. Embappé will have the chance to score more when France face Morocco in the other semi-final on Wednesday.
Be careful with Alvarez. Add four goals in Qatar, not bad for someone who took ownership in the third game of the group stage.
There is no doubt he will be by Messi’s side when they return to the Lusail Stadium for Sunday’s final.