Lionel Messi invites Argentina to the World Cup final

Lionel Messi will have the chance to cap off his glittering career with a World Cup winner’s medal after opening the scoring in a magical display that helped Argentina beat Croatia and reach Sunday’s final.

The 35-year-old is one of the greatest to ever grace the pitch and will get his shot at glory against France or Morocco at the Lusail stadium in what looks to be his last appearance on the world stage.

Messi scored from the spot before Manchester City striker Julian Alvarez ended a solo run with a cool finish, then benefited from a brilliant assist from the skipper in a 3-0 semi-final win. final against Croatia.

The Paris St Germain star finished runners-up at the World Cup in 2014 and his determination to finally get his hands on the trophy was clear in Qatar, where thousands gathered to cheer him on the quest.

Zlatko Dalic’s Croatia had started the brightest at Lusail, only for Dominik Livakovic to clumsily bring down Alvarez and see Messi slam the resulting kick past him.

Alvarez put Lionel Scaloni’s side further before half-time, having raced from inside his own half to coolly lead home after benefiting from a few deflections and a weak defence.

The 22-year-old clinched his second place against the 2018 runners-up after being teased by Messi following exquisite work by the skipper, whose side are lucky to join the heroes of 1978 and 1986 in the immortality.

The Albiceleste were supported all the way by their fans in Qatar, where the incessant chanting and rhythmic drumming continued throughout a nervous start against Dalic’s skillful and well-trained side.

Veteran star Luka Modric played incisive passes and Mateo Kovacic was a driving force in midfield, but this outstanding unit lacked an elite striker.

Croatia failed to create a clean chance before Enzo Fernandez saw a hopeful curling effort saved as Argentina came alive late.

That shot was soon followed by a chance to open the scoring from the spot after Alvarez ran on a ball over the top, only to be flattened by Livakovic.

Referee Daniele Orsato pointed the spot, booking the goalkeeper and the frustrated Kovacic and ultimately sending off assistant coach Mario Mandzukic.

Livakovic went in the right direction but Messi’s powerful kick went past him, tucking into the top right corner in the 34th minute as he became his country’s all-time top scorer in the FIFA Cup history. world.

Lionel Messi celebrates his goal (Martin Rickett/PA)

The 35-year-old had already made history on Tuesday by simply stepping onto the pitch, equaling German great Lothar Matthaus’ record of 25 games in the tournament.

Argentina took the lead in the 39th minute as Croatia saw a corner routine blocked, leading to a break and Alvarez attacking just inside his own half.

The 22-year-old kept his cool under pressure from Marcelo Brozovic just outside the box, continuing as soft clearances from Josip Juranovic and Borna Sosa saw him slip past Livakovic smartly.

Argentina pushed for a quick third. Penalty appeals against Josko Gvardiol fell on deaf ears and Livakovic stopped Alexis Mac Allister superbly from the resulting corner.

Lionel Messi faces Croats Mateo Kovacic, Marcelo Brozovic and Josko Gvardiol, ld

Lionel Messi takes on Croatians Mateo Kovacic, Marcelo Brozovic and Josko Gvardiol, lr (Martin Rickett/PA)

Modric saw a shot blocked and Emiliano Martinez did well to stop a Juranovic attempt from creeping in just before the break.

Dalic made two changes for the second half as Croatia struggled to reduce the deficit, but his lack of leadership continued to hamper them.

Livakovic denied Messi at a sharp angle as Argentina sought to expose gaps – although their skipper could find spaces where few thought they existed.

The captain got past Gvardiol after showing impressive tight control in the 69th minute. The talented Croatian defender eventually returned, only for Messi to turn and cut him for Alvarez to come home.

Luka Modric is greeted by manager Zlatko Dalic as he is substituted

Luka Modric takes the day off at 3-0 (Adam Davy/PA)

This strike put an end to the contest. Ivan Perisic saw a free kick saved and Modric was cheered on by both sets of fans as he was taken off.

Mac Allister flew wide and substitute Lovro Majer took a chance late in the game, the Argentine bench jumping in unison with their fans’ chants before the final whistle sparked wild celebrations.

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