Lionel Messi’s quest for an elusive World Cup triumph is just one step from completion after he inspired Argentina to a 3-0 win over Croatia on Tuesday that secured their place in the final.
Croatia had proven stern opposition when eliminating Brazil in the previous round, but they crashed out at Lusail Stadium as Argentina continued their impressive record of never losing a World Cup semi-final.
Messi was key, putting Argentina ahead from the penalty spot to become his country’s all-time leading World Cup goalscorer with 11, then playing a role in Julian Alvarez’s somewhat fortuitous second.
There was nothing lucky about Argentina’s third goal in the second half, as Messi’s brilliant solo run teed up Alvarez to put the game beyond doubt.
Neither side looked willing commit many bodies forward early on, but a rare defensive lapse handed Argentina the initiative just past the half-hour mark.
Dejan Lovren played Alvarez onside before Dominik Livakovic collided with the striker to concede a penalty, which Messi slammed into the top-right corner.
It was 2-0 five minutes later following some poor Croatia defending.
Messi’s pass released Alvarez on the counter-attack, and he stabbed home from close range after running half the length of the pitch and profiting from three ricochets in the Croatia box.
Argentina sat back more after the break and Croatia struggled to find a way through, with goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez largely untroubled.
Any hope of a Croatia comeback was emphatically ended 21 minutes from time.
Messi darted past Josko Gvardiol on the right, checked back, and then beat him again around the outside before cutting back to the grateful Alvarez, who applied the finish.