Gallagher Premiership Highlights - Round 21Mar 27
World Cup 2022 in review: Day 20 - Marvellous Messi moves closer to mirroring Maradona as Argentina advance to final
A daily report from the 2022 World Cup in Qatar - reviewing the best goals, saves, quotes and moments of magic from the day’s matches.
Lionel Messi scored the first for Argentina and played his part in the other two, both netted by Julian Alvarez, as the Albiceleste beat Croatia 3-0 to set up a World Cup final against either France or Morocco on Sunday and put the South American nation within 90 minutes of glory in the tournament for the first time since 1986, when Diego Maradona was captain.
Here's how the game unfolded...
The day’s results
Argentina 3-0 Croatia
Argentina 3-0 Croatia
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 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.
Messi stepped up to bury the spot-kick and eclipse Gabriel Batistuta's national record of 10 World Cup goals - and it didn't take long for that lead to increase.
Modric opted to take a short corner 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 Josip 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 Josip Juranovic's effort.
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.
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.
The rest of the contest drifted by 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.
Goal of the day
Julian Alvarez - Argentina (his second)
Although Alvarez's run for his first goal was impressive, he was able to shoot thanks to a huge slice of luck as Borna Sosa fell over.
His second - Argentina's third - was just down to sheer brilliance as Lionel Messi picked up the ball on the right, stopping and starting, twisting and turning as he toyed with Josko Gvardiol before wriggling past the 20-year-old at the byline and finding Alvarez for a composed finish.
Save of the day
Dominik Livakovic - Croatia
Livakovic had a superb tournament and was Croatia's penalty shootout hero against both Japan and Brazil.
Despite being at fault for Argentina's first when he conceded a penalty, the Dinamo Zagreb goalkeeper did also had some positive moments in the game, pulling off an excellent fingertip save to keep out Alexis Mac Allister's flicked header after the Albiceleste had just gone 2-0 ahead.
Player of the day
Lionel Messi - Argentina
A predictable choice, but Messi makes the game look so easy. It was tough to separate him and Julian Alvarez, but the effortless nature of Messi's dribbling to outwit the usually unflappable Josko Gvardiol was ultimately the deciding factor, despite Alvarez's two-goal haul and relentless energy.
An honourable mention goes to Enzo Fernandez, whose pinpoint pass helped create the opener, while the Benfica midfielder also linked up intricately with Messi in the second half in a rapid one-two between the pair.
- Julian Alvarez is the youngest player to score twice in a World Cup semi-final or final (22 years and 316 days) since Pele in 1958 (17 years and 249 days), according to Opta
- Lionel Messi has become the first player to both score and assist in four separate World Cup matches since assist records began in 1966
Quote of the day
ITV co-commentator Ally McCoist sums up Lionel Messi's incredible assist succinctly but impactfully:
"That was just genius, simple as that. Absolute genius"
Image of the day
Said on social
Wednesday 14 December:
France vs Morocco - 7pm KO