Grand Prix of Portugal - MotoGP QualifyingMar 25 LIVE
Argentina 3-0 Croatia: Julian Alvarez and mesmeric Lionel Messi outclass Zlatko Dalic's men to take the Albiceleste into their sixth World Cup final
Messi made it 1-0 after Alvarez was adjudged to have been fouled by Dominik Livakovic, before the Manchester City striker netted after a determined solo run and then doubled his personal tally for the evening after some spellbinding dribbling by his 35-year-old captain.
Lionel Messi and Julian Alvarez fired Argentina into their sixth World Cup final as Lionel Scaloni's side outclassed Croatia - and now await the winners of Wednesday's clash between France and Morocco.
In a contest billed as a shootout between Messi and Luka Modric during what is set to be the pair's final World Cup, the first key moment saw Messi controversially dispatch from the penalty spot on 34 minutes after Dominik Livakovic's foul on Alvarez, before Alvarez doubled the lead with a determined 40-yard run through the Croatia rearguard and the finish to match.
The best was saved until last though as Messi's wizardry left Josko Gvardiol trailing in his wake before a measured final ball from the No 10 was tucked in by the No 9.
In a cagey opening, the only attempt in the opening quarter of the contest came when Dejan Lovren headed wide after Josip Juranovic won a corner off Nicolas Tagliafico, back in the starting XI for the first time since the Albiceleste's opening game at this tournament, the shock 2-1 defeat to Saudi Arabia.
The esteemed midfield three of Marcelo Brozovic, Mateo Kovacic and Modric were winning the battle in the centre of the park early on, and the 37-year-old also displayed his defensive qualities before the half-hour mark, getting back into his own box to flick Rodrigo De Paul's cross away from danger with Alvarez lurking.
However, things quickly changed. Shortly after Ivan Perisic had chipped over Emiliano Martinez's bar, a brilliant ball by Enzo Fernandez released Alvarez and the Manchester City man dinked around Livakovic before winning a penalty after colliding with the Croatia goalkeeper, who was booked along with Kovacic, the latter for his protests.
The ITV pundit line-up of Gary Neville, Ian Wright and Roy Keane unanimously felt Livakovic wasn't able to avoid contact after coming out to meet Alvarez.
Nevertheless, the decision wasn't subject to a VAR review and Messi stepped up to bury the spot-kick and eclipse Gabriel Batistuta's national record of 10 World Cup goals.
It didn't take long for that lead to increase - and it came from a devastating counter-attack following a Croatia corner.
Modric opted to take it short for Brozovic, but the Inter midfielder's attempted cross was charged down excellently by the terrier-like Alvarez, with the loose ball breaking to Nicolas Otamendi.
The centre-back's header forward was nudged to Alvarez by Messi, and the 22-year-old drove upfield, twisting Juranovic one way then the other, but looked to have lost possession before Borna Sosa lost his balance in tracking back and miskicked into the path of the striker, who didn't need a second invitation to fire into the back of the net.
With Croatia on the ropes, Livakovic did well to palm away Alexis Mac Allister's flicked header and was alert to the danger of an inswinging Messi corner, while at the other end, Mario Pasalic couldn't convert after Martinez got down low to repel Juranovic's effort.
Possession: 39% - 61%
Shots: 9 - 12
Shots on target: 7 - 2
Corners: 2 - 4
Zlatko Dalic threw caution to the wind at the start of the second half, making three attacking substitutions, but despite some neat passing moves, Croatia weren't able to make inroads and could well have been 3-0 down as Messi weaved and jinked in familiar fashion on the edge of the opposition area before a rapid one-two with Fernandez put the Paris Saint-Germain star through on goal, but Livakovic again managed to keep the score down.
However, Messi's genius then gloriously came to the fore once more and served as yet another reminder of why he is considered by many to be the greatest of all time.
There didn't appear to be anything on as Messi picked up the ball on the right, closely shielded by Gvardiol.
But the captain's bewitching change of pace saw him become the 20-year-old's puppeteer as he glided to the byline - having already beaten his marker on a few occasions - before producing the perfect cutback that Alvarez guided home coolly.
On 81 minutes, the curtain came down on what could well be Modric's last appearance at a major tournament, with the Real Madrid maestro making way for Lovro Majer.
As switched on as ever, Messi almost instigated a move that led to the fourth goal, but Mac Allister narrowly missed the target.
Five minutes of stoppage time came and went in a flash and despite a few half-chances, Croatia's fightback was ineffective, with Scaloni's charges extending the country's proud 100% record in World Cup semi-finals and putting Argentina - and Messi - one match away from replicating the achievements of the South Americans' last world champions in 1986, inspired by the late, great Diego Maradona.