Argentina secured their place in the 2022 World Cup final with a statement 3-0 win against Croatia on Tuesday evening.
Lionel Messi and Julian Alvarez led La Albiceleste’s charge from the front, putting their plucky underdog opponents to the sword and ensuring Argentina’s passage to Sunday’s showdown was smooth.
After a cagey and tense opening 25 minutes, the game sprung into life when Argentina caught Croatia cold on a counter attack. Enzo Fernandez’s through ball over the top for Alvarez looked to have been skewed, but the striker took it in his stride well and made a run for goal. He attempted to dink Dominik Livakovic and while his effort was cleared off the line, the goalkeeper had impeded him and a penalty was awarded.
Messi stepped up and hammered the spot kick into the top right corner to break the deadlock and put Argentina in front, becoming his country’s all-time scorer at World Cups in the process.
Soon after, Argentina grabbed their second, once again making the most of a quick break. Croatia were left scrambling trying to deal with the pace of Alvarez on the ball and the run of Nahuel Molina to his right. Josip Juranovic and Borna Sosa attempted to rob the Manchester City youngster of possession, but it kept bobbling right back into his path and he eventually managed to poke the ball past Livakovic.
Zlatko Dalic’s men were in danger of slipping away before the first half was even over. Nicolas Tagliafico’s header from an Alexis Mac Allister corner was well tipped away by Livakovic as Argentina’s onslaught continued.
A cross from Juranovic nearly snuck in at Emiliano Martinez’s near post, though it did not have enough pace on it to properly deceive him and Argentina went into the break two to the good.
Dalic didn’t spend time dawdling and threw on Mislav Orsic and Nikola Vlasic at the start of the second man, with quarter-final hero Bruno Petkovic quickly following.
After a quick give-and-go with Alvarez around the back of Josko Gvardiol, Messi managed to remain on his feet and fire a shot at Livakovic’s near post, but the Dinamo Zagreb stopper was equal to his effort.
Dejan Lovren’s header on the hour mark from an in-swinging free-kick was mistimed and allowed Martinez to gratefully claw it away from immediate danger, with his defenders sweeping up afterwards.
Argentina’s third of the evening was all about Messi again, twisting and turning his way round Gvardiol again before sliding the ball across for Alvarez to tap in and all but secure the victory.
Luka Modric was withdrawn in the final ten minutes to an appreciative reception from a largely Argentine crowd, who nearly saw their side add a fourth when Paulo Dybala teed up Alexis Mac Allister almost by accident, eventually threading him through but with the final shot off target.
At the other end, Lovro Majer’s corner was cleverly flicked on by Ivan Perisic and right through the six yard box, with Lovren the closest to getting a telling touch.
Confirmation of Argentina’s progression to the final was confirmed following five minutes of stoppage time, with Croatia’s dream coming to an end.
Argentina player ratings (4-4-2
GK: Emiliano Martinez – 6/10 – Had little to do but commanded his area well and claimed some dangerous crosses.
RB: Nahuel Molina – 7/10 – His darting run had Croatia at sixes and sevens in the lead up to Alvarez’s goal, again proving his final-third threat.
CB: Cristian Romero – 6/10 – Defended with his usual aggression but was rather over-eager amid the tense opening. Settled down after and played a calmer game at 2-0 up.
CB: Nicolas Otamendi – 7/10 – Whereas Romero needed time to simmer down, Otamendi looked composed from the off.
LB: Nicolas Tagliafico – 6/10 – Quite easily took Pasalic out of the game by doing very little.
RM: Rodrigo De Paul – 6/10 – Wasn’t as useless as he has been in previous matches but still played some strange, errant passes. It didn’t matter too much for the most part and his versatility was useful in helping change formation on the fly.
CM: Leandro Paredes – 6/10 – Likewise was guilty of some overhit passes and had a hard task up against Croatia’s famous midfield trio, but did a decent job.
CM: Enzo Fernandez – 7/10 – Argentina’s best passer on the night, while he also surged forward to join attacks to better effect than his colleagues.
LM: Alexis Mac Allister – 7/10 – Picked up clever positions between the lines though looked a little overawed by the occasion every now and then.
CF: Lionel Messi – 9/10 – Fans would have feared the worst when he was spotted holding his hamstring early on, but Messi soon found his rhythm and delivered a classic performance at the Lusail Iconic Stadium. Croatia had no idea how to stop him whether he was walking or running.
CF: Julian Alvarez – 9/10 – The only reason he hasn’t been a star for Manchester City just yet is because they also have Erling Haaland. Alvarez put in an incredible display leading the line and looks the perfect partner for Messi.
Lisandro Martinez (62′ for Paredes) – 6/10
Exequiel Palacios (74′ for De Paul) – 6/10
Paulo Dybala (74′ for Alvarez) – 6/10
Juan Foyth (86′ for Molina) – N/A
Angel Correa (86′ for Mac Allister) – N/A
Lionel Scaloni – 8/10 – Argentina succeeded where Brazil failed, finding consistent ways to open up Croatia on the counter attack and through Messi while maintaining their own defensive solidity.
Croatia player ratings (4-3-3)
GK: Dominik Livakovic – 5/10 – A bit unfortunate to have given away a penalty. Made other saves to keep the score down.
RB: Josip Juranovic – 4/10 – Failed to get a telling touch to take the ball off of Alvarez leading up to Argentina’s second goal.
CB: Dejan Lovren – 2/10 – If you live by Lovren, you’re sure to die by Lovren. The former Liverpool defender played Alvarez miles onside leading up to the penalty and was his usual haphazard self.
CB: Josko Gvardiol – 3/10 – Kept getting dragged wide and played as if he was in a back three rather than a back four. Torn apart by Messi time after time in the second half.
LB: Borna Sosa – 2/10 – His first touch was always taken as if he was setting himself up for a cross. The problem was he wasn’t always crossing the ball. Calamitous defending for Argentina’s second goal. Hooked at half-time.
DM: Marcelo Brozovic – 5/10 – Provided steeliness and technique at the base of midfield, but was sacrificed for a target man in Petkovic.
CM: Luka Modric – 7/10 – Enjoyed early success playing his way through midfield and put in a shift defensively, but his efforts were ultimately fruitless.
CM: Mateo Kovacic – 7/10 – Similarly looked bright early on and Argentina had a hard time trying to stop his mazing dribbles.
RW: Mario Pasalic – 3/10 – Another near-anonymous performance from Pasalic, who was swiftly removed at the break.
CF: Andrej Kramaric – 3/10 – Commentators love to lean on Kramaric’s failed spell at Leicester, but with performances like his this World Cup, it’s easy to see why he didn’t last long at the King Power Stadium.
LW: Ivan Perisic – 5/10 – Made good, composed decisions but couldn’t provide the spark Croatia needed.
Nikola Vlasic (46′ for Sosa) – 4/10 – Unable to create any real openings.
Mislav Orsic (46′ for Mario Pasalic) – 4/10 – Also failed to get in the game.
Bruno Petkovic (50′ for Brozovic) – 5/10 – Brought much-needed physicality but Croatia couldn’t find him enough.
Marko Livaja (72′ for Kramaric) – N/A
Lovro Majer (81′ for Modric) – N/A
Zlatko Dalic – 5/10 – Croatia’s bend-but-don’t-break approach finally gave way, but there was little they could have done outside individual errors to stop Messi and Alvarez.