LUSAIL, Qatar ( Associated Press) – Lionel Messi has gotten the revenge he most hoped for.
The star was an inspiration for Argentina who thrashed eventual runners-up Croatia 3-0 on Tuesday and will play in the World Cup final, seeking revenge for the trophy that eluded them eight years ago.
“We are going to play in the end, which is what we wanted,” said Díaz Albiceleste after the victory.
Messi opened the scoring at the Lusail Stadium with a penalty in the 34th minute when he headed in a corner past Croatian goalkeeper Dominik Livkovic. It was the star’s fifth goal in Qatar and his eleventh at the World Cup, surpassing striker Gabriel Batistuta as Argentina’s top scorer in the competition.
Messi then assisted Julian Álvarez, who won several Croatian shirts after galloping and defined with the perfect move on 39 minutes. This partnership would result in the Manchester City forward’s double on 69 minutes.
Messi’s counterpart was Luka Modric, the 37-year-old Croatian star who will not have a chance to avenge his team’s defeat in the 2018 final. Tuesday’s loss was only their second in their last 13 World Cup appearances.
Argentina, champions in 1978 and 1986 and last finalist in 2014, will play the final next Sunday at the same stage against the winner of the other semi-final played on Wednesday by reigning monarchs France and Morocco.
“Despite the fact that we started off losing, we believed this group would pull it off. We know what we are and we asked people to believe in us,” Messi said.
La Albiceleste began the way to the decider with a loss to Saudi Arabia, before defeating Mexico, Poland, Australia and the Netherlands. Croatia, an opponent that was presented as the toughest obstacle in the previous one, fell victim to Lionel Scaloni’s team’s best performance in the tournament.
A Messi in the most similar version of Diego Maradona, both in game and temperament, a rookie like Álvarez who earned the title in the tournament and responded with goals, Emiliano Martínez, an attractive goalkeeper in crucial moments and a wise coach who chose each commitment. The right commentators have led the South American country to the goal it has set itself at the Copa America 2021 after breaking the curse of 28 years without a title.
Argentina did not repeat the formation for the fifth game in a row. Scaloni also changed the tactical plan used against the Netherlands in the quarter-finals. He returned to a line of four defenders and defender Lisandro Martínez gave way to midfielder Leandro Paredes for a 4–4–2. while Nicolás Tagliafico entered for suspended winger Marcos Acuña.
The game passed in complete monotony with Messi and Luka Modric, each team’s aces, having little room to think. The Croats had more of the ball, but without posing a real threat to the Argentine who preferred to wait.
Until Enzo Fernández jumped across the Croatian line with a long pass to Álvarez, who alone began running towards the opponent’s goal. He was charged by Croatian goalkeeper Dominik Livkovic and awarded a penalty by Italian referee Daniele Orsato.
Livkovic, who had saved four penalties from 11 meters in victories against Japan and Brazil in the previous two rounds, could do nothing before Messi’s execution, a strong left-footed shot into the corner. It was the star’s fifth goal in Qatar and his eleventh at the World Cup, surpassing striker Gabriel Batistuta as Argentina’s top scorer in the competition.
The Paris Saint-Germain forward has scored in every World Cup game, except a 2-0 win over Poland in the first round. Three have been fined.
At the age of 35, Messi also equaled German legend Lothar Matthaus’ mark as the player with the most appearances at the World Cup (25).
Messi himself would score Argentina’s second goal with an assist – his third in the tournament – for Alvarez, who beat the Croatian defense with all the nerve the 22-year-old could muster and push the ball in with his right foot.
The Croats’ fighting spirit was broken when Messi danced down the right to send Josco Guardiol through to center back and on the edge of the line he passed back for Alvarez’s second goal. It was the Manchester City striker’s fourth goal of the tournament.
The Argentine victory was never a risk, as it had been in previous instances. Some Croatian attacks were repelled with solvency by their defense and goalkeeper Martínez to set the hearts of hundreds of fans in Lusail and the South American country’s millions of fans at ease.