It was Messi’s 11th goal for Argentina in World Cup history, one better than the previous best tally of 10 by Gabriel Batistuta, a former teammate of Diego Maradona. It was Messi’s fifth goal in Qatar in his record-equalling 25th World Cup appearance that he shares with Germany’s Lothar Matthaus.
Messi helped Man City forward Alvarez – positioned inside the Croatian box – score Argentina’s third with a superb solo run from the right flank. Despite being chased by Josko Gvardiol for about 25 metres, Messi had the ball glued to his boot as he neared the Croatian box. If ever proof was needed of Messi’s genius with a ball, it came right here as Gvardiol couldn’t mark the Argentine skipper. Messi, after hoodwinking first and then dribbling past Gvardiol, flicked a right-footed low cross for Alvarez who easily connected inside the six-yard box for his second goal of the night.
Alvarez, just 22, has now scored four times in Qatar.
It was Argentina’s fifth semi-final win in World Cup history. Argentina have posted wins against the USA in 1930 (6-1), Belgium in 1986 (2-0), Italy in 1990 (1-1, 4-3 on penalties), the Netherlands in 2014 (0-0, 4-2 on penalties) and Croatia in 2022 (3-0). Yesterday’s slick win was Argentina’s second in three World Cup matches against Croatia.
In the third minute, Rodrigo de Paul found Enzo Fernandez with a neat cross from the halfline. Fernandez ran towards the flank but none of his teammates were in the box for the deflection as the ball sailed away. A tap-in to a teammate from Messi on a throw-in was his first touch in the 4th minute of the match. Thousands of Argentines drowned the Lusail Stadium with a deafening roar as Messi made his first move.
Croatian midfielder Mario Pasalic brought down Nicolas Tiagliafico with a rough tackle near the half line but the referee went soft on the young Croat in the 6th minute.
Seven minutes later, Italian referee Daniele Orsato once again ignored a rough foul, this time not penalising Croatian skipper Luka Modric who brought down Alexis Mac Allister near the halfline. Seconds later Messi went down near the Croatian box but the referee wasn’t interested much to the dismay of thousands of Argentine fans screaming for a free-kick.
Croatia’s Gvardiol and Borna Sosa and Chelsea midfielder Mateo Kovacic kept the ball within themselves for most of the first 15 minutes. On Croatia’s first corner, Dejan Lovren managed to jump high close to the six-yard box but his snap header did not have the angle needed as Argentina’s Cristian Romero and Nicolas Otamendi fell in a heap from the collision inside their own box.
In the 20th minute, a packed Lusail Stadium saw Messi holding his left hamstring. A few minutes later, he orchestrated a couple of crosses near the box but the Croatian defenders remained alert to kill the moves. He soon outpaced Kovacic near the centre circle but as went to the left – Messi couldn’t get a shot away.
In the 24th minute, Argentine midfielder Fernandes curled in a right-footed shot that was saved by keeper Dominik Livakovic with a dive to his left. Seconds later, Tagliafico scampered down the left flank but his cross into the Croatian box sailed away as none of his Argentine players could meet the loopy ball. Soon after the half hour mark, Croatia’s Spurs forward Ivan Perisic clipped a ball over the keeper’s head but his shot went close to the crossbar.
Moments later, Argentina won a penalty that was easily converted by Messi. De Paul who charged into the box – following a loopy cross from the halfline – was brought down by Livakovic as the Argentine
midfielder attempted to sneak past the Croatian keeper. A body check from Livakovic saw De Paul on the turf as the referee showed a yellow to Livakovic. Kovacic was also booked for complaining. A calm and calculated Messi went top of the net with his penalty to give Argentina the much-needed lead in the 34th minute.
Five minutes later, Argentina jumped to a 2-0 lead. Forward Alvarez – after picking up a loose ball from the half line – ran all the way into the Croatian box where teammates De Paul and Molina also converged to unsettle the Croatian defenders. Alvarez attempted to shoot but his feeble touch saw the ball hit Sosa and bounce back. In a single move, Alvarez clipped the ball into the net even as keeper Livakovic failed to stop the flick going into the net in the 39th minute.
In the 42nd minute, Mac Allister produced a classy snap-header off a corner but the deflection was smartly deflected away by an outstretched hand of Livakovic.
Clearly the first 20 minutes belonged to Croatia but Argentina came alive in the last 15 minutes when the two-time World Cup winners produced two goals in quick succession to add to Modric’s woes. Just as injury time was announced, Messi was seen clutching his hamstring again. Messi was back on for the second half – much to the delight of Argentine fans – but Croatian manager Zlatko Dalic brought on Nikola Vlasic and Mislav Orsic for Sosa and Pasalic. Six minutes into the second half, Bruno Petkovic replaced Marceloa Brozovic.
Three minutes from the first-hour mark, Messi – after dribbles and shot passing to and from Alvarez – got near the six-yard box but his left-footed drive was blocked by keeper Livakovic. A classic Messi set-piece that nearly brought Argentina’s third. With Argentina running the show, Messi could be seen doing his garden walk on the right flank after 62 minutes.
With Modric, 37, getting benched in the 82nd minute, that just about signalled the great Croatian had walked off for the last time in an international match.
Messi’s World Cup goalsMessi is the first player to score and assist in three different matches in a single World Cup since 1966.
1- Argentina vs Serbia and Montenegro, 2006 World Cup
2- Argentina vs Bosnia and Herzegovina, 2014 World Cup
3- Argentina vs Iran, 2014 World Cup
4 and 5- Argentina vs Nigeria, 2014 World Cup
6- Argentina vs Nigeria, 2018 World Cup
7- Argentina vs Saudi Arabia, 2022 World Cup
8- Argentina vs Mexico, 2022 World Cup
9- Argentina vs Australia, 2022 World Cup
10- Argentina vs Netherlands, 2022 World Cup
11- Argentina vs Croatia, 2022 World Cup