It seemed like it was only a few weeks ago when Julian Alvarez was a starry-eyed youngster basking in the bright lights of the Argentine Primera Division.
With his previous club River Plate, he looked like the greatest player to ever grace a soccer pitch and still had room for improvement.
Avid fans of River Plate knew Alvarez would be a major player.
In his breakout season in 2021, he became the league-leading goalscorer, tied-sixth for assists, and carried his side to their 37th-ever league title.
All of South America knew he could make it big as well. His proficient performances in the Copa Libertadores put him on numerous scouts’ radars and earned him worldwide recognition.
And look at him now. Alvarez has come from dominating Argentina in 2021 to signing with Manchester City and leading the Albiceleste into a World Cup final.
His arduous ascent to the peak of soccer can be chronicled in some of his legendary performances in both Buenos Aires and Manchester.
An up-and-coming Argentine ace
Julian Alvarez’s majestic arrival to the top of the soccer world was coming, and River Plate fans knew it when he laced up his boots for the club’s senior team at the tender age of 18.
It was under the bright lights of the Estadio Mãs Monumental that he scored his made his first appearances and scored his first professional goals.
His breakout season would come in 2021. The pacy winger marked his arrival to the mainstream in a Superclasico against Boca Juniors. He opened the scoring in front of a packed, hostile stadium with a well-hit strike in the middle of the first half.
He doubled River Plate’s lead with his seventh goal of the season, a well-hit tap-in near the end of the first half. He singlehandedly led River Plate to a win against arguably their fiercest competition, helping them take a slim lead in the 14th matchday.
Alvarez’s River Plate ended up winning the league, with El Aranita winning top scorer awards. He went on to win the prestigious award of South American Player of the Year and was named to the South American Team of the Year as well. He ended up signing to Manchester City in January amid interest from AC Milan, West Ham, and more top sides.
It not only earned him plaudits from European scouts, but the attention of Argentina manager Lionel Scaloni. He ended up playing and eventually starting a couple of games for La Albiceleste, including a 1-1 draw with Ecuador.
The game was not important, as both Ecuador and Argentina had secured qualification to the World Cup and were facing a weaker side. But for Alvarez, it meant a lot.
Indeed, he scored his first goal for Argentina in his first start. His fleet-footed finish to send his attempt past a horde of defenders put Argentina ahead, and although Enner Valencia’s injury-time winner restored parity, the goal would be the first in a long list of goals for Argentina.
When discussing Alvarez’s dominance, it’s hard to leave out his six-goal game(!!) against a hapless Alianza Lima side in the Copa Libertadores.
His performance feels somewhat like a lucid dream looking back on it. But, Alvarez, as usual, made the impossible a reality when he dominated the reigning Peruvian champions.
Alvarez started off early, weaving through a porous Alianza defense to knock in the first goal of the game in the fifteenth minute.
He returned just three minutes later with another goal, finishing off a cross with a fleet-footed finish. But, he was not done yet. The City striker got his long-awaited hat-trick in the 41st minute, beating the keeper with one of his signature long shots.
With the game all but lost for Alianza when they went down by 4 with 35 minutes remaining, Alianza were stunned to see that Alvarez was still pressing and hustling for the ball. x
He scored an easy tap-in off a goalkeeping blunder in the 54th and chipped the keeper in the 57th for his fifth goal in the match. Alvarez rubbed salt in Alianza’s bloody wound with a great dribbling move to evade two defenders and get his sixth goal of the match. Julian Alvarez ended the game with two match-balls and a 8-1 win, emerging as the bane of every Alianza fan’s existence.
After Alvarez finally moved to Manchester, it did take him a while to adjust to the new scenery. He was behind players like Erling Haaland, Phil Foden, and Jack Grealish on the attacking depth chart. But it did not stop him from excelling. Take his Champions League masterclass against Sevilla.
Sure, the game was meaningless; Manchester City had already secured first place in their group; but Alvarez showed up nonetheless. Rafa Mir scored Sevilla’s first to establish an early lead in the 31st, but Alvarez helped City strike back.
He cut out a lazy pass with his dogged pressing before playing a pinpoint through-ball to Rico Lewis, who buried his golden chance in the 52nd.
Alvarez took the lead with a goal of his own, latching on to a great through-ball, catching Sevilla’s Bounou off his line, and knocking in an easy chance.
His second-ever Champions League goal gave Manchester City a well-deserved lead. Again, Alvarez squeezed water out of stone by creating a big chance.
His press caught a Sevilla defender by surprise, and he started a very potent counter-attack. Alvarez squared the ball to Riyad Mahrez, who easily hit City’s third goal of the night
Alvarez deservingly made the 26-man roster for the World Cup, albeit not as one of the key, starting attackers. The City striker found himself behind Lautaro Martinez and his childhood idol Lionel Messi on the depth chart. Yet, surprisingly, the position began to open up.
Martinez began having mediocre performances. Against Saudi Arabia, he frequently got caught out offsides.
He had another middling performance against Mexico, where he could not get involved with the offense very much. Argentina manager Lionel Scaloni decided to gamble on the precocious Alvarez by giving him a start in a crucial showdown with Poland.
Alvarez proved Scaloni right. He scored in their 2-0 win over Poland to give them first-place in their group, and he went on to score another goal in their 2-1 nailbiter against Australia. It leads us to a big semi-final matchup against a Croatia side looking to pull off the unimaginable and upset Argentina.
Not on Julian Alvarez’s watch.
Alvarez showed why the likes of Pep Guardiola and Stefano Pioli recognized him as a great talent. He lacerated Croatia’s sturdy defense, drawing a penalty in the 32nd minute to give Argentina an early lead.
Alvarez burst through yet again in the 39th minute. He picked up a shoved pass near the halfway line and used his impressive speed to start a counter-attack. After beating both Marcelo Brozovic and Josip Juranovic, he beat Dominik Livakovic to widen Argentina’s lead.
Alvarez’s dominance over a Croatia defense in disarray did not stop there. A magnificent assist from Messi where he beat Josko Gvardiol ended in a precise Alvarez finish. The slot from the penalty spot gave Argentina a comfy three-goal cushion and an eventual spot in the World Cup finals.
With the legacy of Lionel Messi and the reputation of Argentina on the line, Julian Alvarez figures to show up in the biggest match of his life. Representing his hometown Caichin and his boyhood club River Plate, he will be sure to show out against France.
Photo credit: IMAGO / TT
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