For the sixth time in its history, Argentina will play in a World Cup Final. La Abiceleste put together a dominant display against the 2018 runner-up, Croatia, on Tuesday.
Lionel Messi grabbed the opening goal with a first-half penalty. Yet, it was Julian Alvarez to got the scoresheet with a brace. Plus, the Manchester City man drew the penalty that Messi tucked away.
Alvarez, just 22 years old, performed the role of striker in its purest form. Runs through the defense led to the penalty and Argentina’s second goal. He also showed his ability as a finisher when he put away Messi’s assist in the second half.
In truth, Argentina looked the stronger of the two from the outset. That trend continued through the 90 minutes.
Croatia actually held the ball more, with 60% possession to Argentina’s 40%. Then, the Vatreni attempted a total of 12 shots. That figure exceeds Argentina’s nine total attempts. Despite the statistics telling one story, Croatia looked no match for Argentina.
For example, Argentina had seven of those nine shots on target. On the other hand, Emiliano Martinez only made three saves on two shots on target from Croatia.
Josko Gvardiol, one of the players of the tournament at centerback, struggled to contain Alvarez’s pace and Messi’s crafty footwork. Dejan Lovren, 33 years old and certainly playing in his last World Cup game, struggled more than his defensive partner.
Argentina showed what it can be. Aggressive on the counter and clamped down defensively. This is the team that won the 2021 Copa America, and it has a chance to win the World Cup on Sunday.
Argentina punches ticket to 2022 World Cup Final
Argentina will play the winner of Morocco and France, which happens on Wednesday at 2 p.m. ET. Regardless, the performance against Croatia will send Lionel Messi and company into that game with exorbitant confidence.
Messi, for example, is tied with France’s Kylian Mbappé in the Golden Boot Race. Granted, his penalty against Croatia was his third penalty out of his five total goals. However, he will not care about the quantity or the Golden Boot. He also has three assists, which includes the gem to Alvarez for the third.
The mantra of this Argentina team is that it is much more than Lionel Messi. Julian Alvarez proved as much. His pair of goals were his third and fourth in the tournament. He looked like the outlet that Lionel Messi needed in 2014 or lacked in 2018.
Defensively, Nicolas Otamendi and Cristian Romero are strong. Moreover, Lionel Scaloni has players like Lisandro Martinez or Nicolas Tagliafico, the latter started against Croatia, that can fill in when needed.
Croatia relegated to third-place game
Croatia, despite its performance against Argentina, still put together a massively successful World Cup. Its tried and true technique of waiting out the opposition and taking things into penalties or stoppage time worked wonders. It advanced past a Japan side that defeated Germany and Spain in the group stage. Then, Croatia stunned Brazil after a brilliant goal from Neymar looked to send the five-time winners to the semifinal.
Luka Modrić, even in the game against Argentina, was outstanding. He dictates an Argentina midfield that has a serious case for being the best in the tournament. Croatia’s goalkeeper, Dominik Livaković, made a case to appear on any team in the world with his performances in the tournament.
Croatia’s tournament is not over, even if it cannot match or improve on its second-place finish from four years ago. It awaits the loser of the other semifinal match in the third-place game on Saturday. In all likelihood, that sets up to be Luka Modrić’s last game in the famous checkered kit of Croatia.
PHOTO: IMAGO / Xinhua
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