Argentina had to be tired of such dramatic games.
Argentina thrashed Croatia 3-0 in their World Cup semifinal on Tuesday, with Leo Messi and Julián lvarez combining on all three goals. Messi scored the game-winning penalty, and lvarez added a brace, the second of which came after some absolute wizardry from Messi.
Early talking points in a tense, tactical match were injuries: Messi appeared to be concerned about his hamstring, while a clash of heads left Cristian Romero in need of treatment.
Argentina, on the other hand, decided to go ahead. A pass from inside the Argentine half by Enzo Fernández beat the entire Croatian midfield and defence, sending lvarez in alone on Dominik Livakovi. The Manchester City forward fired a low shot just as the striker and goalkeeper collided. The effort was cleared off the line by Croatia, but referee Daniele Orsato awarded a penalty kick for the collision.
Messi showed no signs of a knock, charging past Livakovi to become Argentina’s all-time leading World Cup goalscorer, breaking a tie with Gabriel.
Croatia stood over a corner kick in the 39th minute looking for a response, only for disaster to strike. Argentina was suddenly surging forward with numbers on the break after their short routine was blocked. Messi scored a crucial goal to keep the sequence alive, but it was lvarez who stole the show.
He charged towards goal, despite Borna Sosa and Josip Juranovi both getting a foot to the ball. lvarez simply continued to run forward, blocking both clearance attempts before poking the loose ball past Livakovi.
Argentina sensed a chance to win comfortably rather than leaving their opponent hanging on, as they had done in previous matches against the Netherlands and Australia, and Livakovi had to make two different, difficult saves just to keep Croatia afloat.
Croatia made some aggressive substitutions, but Argentina was able to keep them at bay for the most part. Messi was denied at the near post by Livakovi, while Croatia’s only significant chance came when a free kick missed its intended target but bounced off the unwitting Cristian Romero.
Just as Argentina began to wobble, Messi worked his magic to ensure that this game would not be like the previous two. He received the ball wide on the right, against Josko Gvardiol.
The RB Leipzig defender is a world-class defender, but what can you do when up against an all-time great? Messi twisted one way, then another, leaving Gvardiol speechless before pulling away from the defender to reach the endline.
lvarez knew exactly what he had to do: get to a location where Messi could find him and finish strong. Argentina’s third goal, scored by the 22-year-old, effectively broke Croatia’s resolve.
After both teams appeared to be inextricably linked to high drama, their semifinal was so lopsided that both coaches were doling out minutes and calling curtain calls. Croatia removed midfield genius Luka Modri in what is almost certainly his final World Cup, as if to confirm their acceptance of the result. On the opposite bench, Lionel Scaloni looked to Juan Foyth and ngel Correa, his only two field players who hadn’t yet played in this tournament.
Argentina’s semifinal was more of a celebration after they stormed off the field in rage after their quarterfinal. Messi and co. jumped for joy as they qualified for their sixth World Cup final, joining fans in chants at one end of the stadium.