Messi and Argentina one step closer to the World Cup

December 14, 2022 - 11:45
But before Messi's opener, Croatia was the better team. The midfield, powered by Luka Modric helped them control possession for most of the half.
TANDEM TANGO: Lionel Messi and Julian Alvarez was instrumental in Argentina's win, as well as their whole campaign. — AFP/VNA Photo

Anh Đức

HÀ NỘI — Lionel Messi's Argentina are through to their second World Cup Finals in eight years, after beating Croatia 3-0 in the Lusail Iconic Stadium on Monday.

Messi opened the scoring for Argentina through a penalty and assisted one of youngster Julian Alvarez's double to ensure Argentina advance.

But before Messi's opener, Croatia was the better team. The midfield, powered by Luka Modric helped them control possession for most of the half.

The defence, however, disappointed the Croatian fans. The same defence that many pundits regarded as the best in the tournament capitulated near the end of the first half.

First it was Dejan Lovren. The former Liverpool defender made a mistake in planting the offside trap, and when Julian Alvarez broke it with incredible speed, an aged Lovren couldn't catch up, and keeper Dominik Livakovic had to rush out and brought down Alvarez in the box.

The referee did not hesitate and pointed to the spot, and Messi took responsibility. El Pulga powered his shot into the top corner, and become Argentina's top scorer at the World Cup with 11 goals.

A fan of Messi in his youth, Alvarez impressed many on the day he partnered with his childhood idol upfront. Just four minutes after he got the penalty, the Man City striker made an impossible sprint from midfield, literally passing through the Croatian defence to double Argentina's lead.

Trailing by two at halftime, Zlatko Dalic brought on attackers Orsic and Vlasic to go all in. Bruno Petkovic, another striker was brought on in the 50th minute, as Croatia sought to replicate Netherlands' 2-2 draw against Argentina.

However, Argentina had learned from the last match and brought on Lisandro Martinez to play in a 3-5-2. They sat defensively as Messi paused and walked calmly into the centre, waiting for his chance to close out the match.

In the 69th minute, the chance came for the Argentine magician, who faces Josko Gvardiol, one of this World Cup's best defenders on the right wing.

"When Messi has the ball one-on-one, you are dead!" said Jose Mourinho a decade ago. And as hard as Gvardiol tried, he cannot beat the superstar 15 years his elder, and exhaustedly witnessed Messi sprinting to the box, delivering a cross for Alvarez to hammer in Livakovic's top corner and making it 3-0 to Argentina.

On the sidelines, Zlatko Dalic knew it was all over. He subbed off his own number 10 in Luka Modric and hand his captain the deserved rest, after two 120-minute matches and 81 minutes of play today.

Messi's advancement also signals the end of Modric's dream, as this might be the last World Cup for the 2018 Ballon d'Or Winner.

But for the owner of seven Ballon d'Ors, it seemed that the more Messi plays, the more people believe that he can win the World Cup.

Whoever comes knocking on Sunday, either France or Morocco needs to acknowledge one thing: The king plays on Sunday. — VNS