Monday, January 30, 2023

Messi's World Cup dream alive as Alvarez helps Argentina cruise past Croatia into final

Messi's World Cup dream alive as Alvarez helps Argentina cruise past Croatia into final

DOHA (Reuters) - Lionel Messi earned a last shot at World Cup glory after his penalty and a double from Julian Alvarez helped Argentina sweep past Croatia 3-0 on Tuesday and into the final where they will face either holders France or Morocco.

While all eyes were on Argentina captain Messi and his fifth bid to win the one major trophy eluding him, it was 22-year-old Alvarez who stole the show, earning the penalty before opening his own account at the end of a scintillating 50-metre run.

Messi coolly put away the spot kick in the 34th minute, after Alvarez was brought down by keeper Dominik Livakovic, to become his country's all-time World Cup top scorer with 11 goals.

Alvarez then took matters into his own hands with his solo effort to double their lead five minutes later.

The pair combined perfectly in the 69th for Alvarez to tap in his second goal after a mesmerising Messi drive to the byline and cut-back to make sure of Argentina's sixth World Cup final appearance.

"Throughout the World Cup it has been incredible what we have lived through and we are going to play the last game which is what we wanted," the 35-year-old Messi said.

"I've been enjoying this for a long time, since we arrived at this World Cup. We asked people to trust us because we know who we are. It's crazy, we did it ... we're going to play another final. Once again, Argentina are in a World Cup final."

Finalists as recently as 2014, the Argentines will try to land a third world crown after 1978 and 1986, a feat that looked unlikely a few weeks ago following their opening group-stage defeat by Saudi Arabia that left them facing the prospect of elimination.

Claiming the world title would elevate seven-time Ballon D'Or winner Messi to the mythical status that the late Diego Maradona enjoys in Argentina.

On Sunday they will face either defending champions France or surprise package Morocco, the first Arab country in a World Cup semi-final, who play each other on Wednesday.