FIFA Men's World Cup
Lionel Messi pushes Argentina past Croatia and into World Cup final
FIFA Men's World Cup

Lionel Messi pushes Argentina past Croatia and into World Cup final

Updated Dec. 13, 2022 5:12 p.m. ET

LUSAIL, Qatar — And so Lionel Messi will get his shot, the chance to give his legacy everything that could ever be asked of a soccer player, to move from greatness to true immortality.

Once again, Messi was at the front and center of everything for Argentina in its 3-0 World Cup semifinal victory over Croatia at Lusail Stadium on Tuesday. This night was about him, because it always is. That's how it goes when you have one of the best of all-time, at 35 years old, chasing ultimate validation. 

Argentina will play for the ultimate prize Sunday (10 a.m. ET on FOX and the FOX Sports app).

His input into his team's first goal was in calmly and fiercely firing home from the penalty spot after build-up work from others. Argentina's second came on a remarkable solo run from Julián Álvarez.


[Related: Lionel Messi's World Cup résumé stands apart as he pushes Argentina into final]

Then, after 69 minutes, the true masterstroke, a dazzling Messi run from near the halfway line before slipping a pass for Álvarez to finish and negate any slight chance of a fightback.

Messi's penalty, awarded after Álvarez was clattered in the box by goalkeeper Dominik Livaković, was driven unstoppably into the top corner on 34 minutes. It not only put the South Americans in front against the run of play, but elevated Messi to a solo spot as his nation's all-time World Cup leading scorer on 11, breaking a tie with Gabriel Batistuta.

It sure seems like a long time ago that Argentina lost its opening game of this World Cup in a stunning upset to Saudi Arabia, and we briefly wondered if it could even fight its way out of the group stage.

Now, the opportunity is to match Diego Maradona's historic 1986 title and to atone for the disappointment of 2014, when Messi was excellent leading up to the final but was subdued by Germany on the big night.

Here, everything was set up by Argentina's burst toward the end of the first half and the opening goal that shifted the tone of the night. With Croatia pressing, a swift break saw Álvarez clear and unmarked, before being fouled by Livaković, who received a booking for his trouble.

Livaković, so effective in penalty shootouts for Croatia, had no chance when Messi's left-foot effort was angled perfectly, high and to the keeper's left.

Lionel Messi drives home a PK

Lionel Messi scores off a penalty kick to give Argentina the early lead.

Croatia didn't score first in any of its games in the tournament, with two scoreless ties in the group, a come-from-behind romp against Canada, and two shootout wins after equalizing against Japan and Brazil.

The 2018 finalist would have liked its chances at battling back into this one, but a two-goal hole was a different proposition. 

The second came about when Álvarez embarked on a counter and had options for passing to both sides, only to decide to go it alone. A pair of rebounds off defenders fell directly back into his path, and the Manchester City forward poked the ball home to extend the advantage.

Julian Alvarez makes it 2-0

Minutes later it was nearly three when Alexis Mac Allister's header was saved by Livaković, and just like that, the sting had been taken out of Croatia, so resolute throughout the campaign behind the midfield excellence of Luka Modrić.

Zlatko Dalić's side attempted to press forward in the second half, but Argentina had things under control. Messi, naturally, wasn't finished yet. His tap-dancing run would not be thwarted and when he reached the end-line he merely needed to knock it into the unmarked Álvarez's path.

Messi sets up Alvarez

Argentina's Julian Alvarez makes it 3-0 in the 69th minute, putting Argentina in complete control.

Success begets opportunity, and that's what Argentina has now.

The chance to become the first non-European World Cup winner for 20 years. To secure soccer's greatest trophy for the third time. To complete the resurrection from that poor start.

And to give Messi, well, everything.

Argentina-Croatia highlights

Lionel Messi powers Argentina into Sunday's World Cup final.

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Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports and the author of the FOX Sports Insider newsletter. Follow him on Twitter @MRogersFOX and subscribe to the daily newsletter.


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