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Argentina reach World Cup 2022 final: Lionel Messi, Julian Alvarez combine to eliminate Croatia in semifinal

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All it took was a five-minute stretch late in the first half for Argentina to score a quickfire double to book their place in the World Cup final, defeating Croatia 3-0 in the semifinals on Tuesday. Despite seemingly having hamstring issues during the first half of the match, Lionel Messi was unstoppable, scoring from the spot before Julian Alvarez scored twice in the lopsided victory. Messi's penalty came from a rare mistake from Dominik Lovankovic who clattered into Alvarez in the box. 

Croatia made changes to try counter at halftime but Messi then set up Alvarez in the 69th to put the game firmly out of reach. After squandering a 2-0 lead to then Netherlands before winning in penalties, Argentina's persistence made sure that they wouldn't suffer the same fate again. With a goal and an assist, Messi has taken the lead in the Golden Boot standings from Kylian Mbappe but this game is as much about Messi's supporting cast as it is about his pursuit for the World Cup.

Only 22, Alvarez has had to bide his time at Manchester City due to Erdling Haaland leading the line but he has burst onto the stage during this World Cup. With a brace Tuesday, Alvarez has now scored four goals for Argentina but his work rate has been just as important. Alvarez winning the penalty and pressing defensively won't show up on the stat sheet, but it's so important to how Argentina have secured results.

He was taken out with a chance for a hat trick but it was for a good reason with Paulo Dybala playing his first minutes of the World Cup ahead of the final. Recovering from a hamstring injury with Roma, this is quite a boost for Argentina ahead of a matchup with either Morocco or France on Sunday. 

Croatia have had a strong tournament and should be proud of their performance but on this day, Messi's pursuit of a World Cup title has taken center stage.

Here are a few takeaways from the match

Excellence from Messi

Another match, and another dominant performance for Messi. Despite everything that he has done during his career, things feel different with Messi during this World Cup. Dialed in and ready to strike, Messi has risen to challenge for the Golden Boot in Qatar. Creating two chances and taking two shots, Messi may not have been involved often but he picked his spots and made Croatia pay. Messi's assist to Alvarez was excellent and if not for some big saves in the match, it could've been an even bigger win for his Argentina side.

While the team won Copa America in front of an empty stadium, the World Cup feels different since fans will be able to celebrate with the team. All it will take is one more victory and Messi can walk off into the sunset in his last World Cup with a title in hand.

The end of a Modric era

After making it to the final of the 2018 World Cup where Luka Modric won the Golden Ball as the best player of the tournament, Croatia has become quite a European power but this World Cup has been a changing of the Guard. Ivan Perisic, Dejan Lovren, and Luka Modric are all 33 years of age or older and this could be the last World Cup for them. Josko Gvardiol did show that there is strength in the next generation, but this team is in the prime or twilight of their careers at 27 or older which makes the next few years interesting to watch.

Modric is an irreplaceable presence so seeing what Croatia does moving forward will be interesting. The team has set a standard that is hard to follow but young players have had true professionals to emulate who they can now aspire to replace. And Croatia has been here before. Their run to the semifinals in 1998 was supposed to be the pinnacle of that generation's accomplishments, which the little country couldn't hope to duplicate. And, well, we've all seen what happened next.

Strength in youth

While Croatia are a team that is aging, youth has led the way for Argentina dung this World Cup. With five starters who are 24 or younger, a team that has usually been one of the older sides in international tournaments has been able to turn it on to power through the World Cup. Nahuel Molina and Cristian Romero anchored a defense that kept Croatia off balance behind Enzo Fernandez and Alexis Mac Allister in midfield. Then to top things off, Alvarez is banging goals in for fun. This is why even with 2022 being Messi's final World Cup, the future of Argentina is in good hands.

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Argentina rolls to victory 

What a time to turn in their most comprehensive performance of the tournament. As soon as Argentina had a chance to go ahead they took at it and didn't look back despite Croatia's performances at the World Cup so far. Rebounding from their loss to Saudi Arabia, Argentina can become only the second team after Spain in 2010 to win the World Cup after losing their first match of the tournament.  

December 13, 2022, 9:14 PM

Emptying the bench

While Messi will go the distance, Angel Correa and Juan Foyth have entered for Molina and Mac Allister while Lionel Scaloni looks to get as many members of the team World Cup appearances as possible. 

December 13, 2022, 8:52 PM

What a tournament for Luka Modric

In what will likely be his last World Cup, Modric did all that he could to will Croatia to victory but it wasn't enough. Behind a strong tournament, Modric has pushed Croatia further than many thought that they could go as this is a nation that won't be doubted in international tournaments.

December 13, 2022, 8:50 PM

With a chance at a hat trick, Julian Alvarez will be withdrawn

But it also sees Paulo Dybala make his first appearance of the World Cup. With his participation in the tournament in doubt, this is a massive boost for Argentina ahead of the World Cup final.

December 13, 2022, 8:37 PM

Argentina got their third

Messidances through the defense before Alvarez smashes home the finish. Argentina won't be caught now.

December 13, 2022, 8:30 PM

Argentina are making a defensive shift

30 minutes to go and Lisandro Martinez has come on for Leandro Paredes. It's a shift that makes sense to move to a back three to finish the match out.

December 13, 2022, 8:24 PM

Croatia are under pressure

Enzo Fernandez had the first chance before Messi pushed another shot to the keeper. The changes weakening Croatia's defense are making things much easier for Argentina moving forward.

December 13, 2022, 8:19 PM

How long can Messi be pushed?

Coming out after the half, Messi was massaging his hamstring again. It could just be tightness as he has been fine moving in attack but it's something to be monitored. Argentina are ahead in the match but already dropping a two goal lead to the Netherlands in their last match, Lionel Scaloni will be in a tricky scenario to close out the match. A risk versus reward scenario.

December 13, 2022, 8:15 PM

A third change for Croatia and it's a bit of a head scratcher

Marcelo Brozovic is withdrawn which makes you wonder if he may have picked up another injury and will be replaced by Bruno Petkovic. As a striker, Petkovic will see Croatia turn into more of a 4-4-2.

December 13, 2022, 8:12 PM

Croatia are making attacking changes

Nikola Vlasic and Mislav Orsic have entered for Sosa and Pasalic. This moves Perisic to left back to try to overwhelm Argentina. Ahead 2-0, Argentina will look to score a third goal to avoid a repeat of the Netherlands match.

December 13, 2022, 8:08 PM

We've reached the half

Croatia has generated chances but Argentina has punished their mistakes leading to two goals. Looking at raw stats, it's disappointing that Croatia can't turn their possession advantage into shots on target but that's the first area to improve moving forward.

December 13, 2022, 7:59 PM

So close to a third

From a header following a corner, Livankovic had to come up with a big save with the game inching closer to halftime.

December 13, 2022, 7:45 PM

Julian Alvarez doubles Argentina's lead

It only took five minutes for Argentina to get another goal and this game could be over before halftime.

December 13, 2022, 7:42 PM

Messi won't miss!

It's a 1-0 lead to Argentina as all it took was one chance and the matcha has shifted. Croatia were just growing into the match as well.

December 13, 2022, 7:36 PM

Penalty to Argentina!

Julian Alvarez was cleaned out by Dominik Livakovic and Messi will step up to take the chance. 

December 13, 2022, 7:34 PM

You can't beat Modric

Argentina went on a great counter but after taking a free kick, Modric tracked all the way back to end Argentina's chance. An absolutely astounding work rate from Modric as the game opens up just a little.

December 13, 2022, 7:30 PM

Maybe it was a little gamesmanship

Messi has looked like himself on the ball and just like that, Argentina have created a few chances. One mistake is all it takes to concede a goal in this match. Margins are quite thin.

December 13, 2022, 7:24 PM

Uh oh

Messi has been checking his left hamstring a lot in the early going of the match. While it will take a serious injury to cause him to leave this match, it's something to keep an eye on.

December 13, 2022, 7:21 PM

Croatia are trying to play the ball forward

Perisic's run is stopped by his teammate Romero as Sosa looks to push the ball up the pitch. A methodical start but that plays into Croatia's hands. Mac Allister went to go on the run but Modric brings him down for a tactical foul.

December 13, 2022, 7:14 PM

Argentina are fine conceding possession early

Croatia can't do much with the ball but over the game they'll look to choose their spots anyway. It's likely to be a slow start to the match.

December 13, 2022, 7:07 PM

Only ten minutes until kickoff

It's set to be a tight affair.

December 13, 2022, 6:51 PM

Will this match go to penalty kicks?

Both of these teams needed a shootout to get here.

December 13, 2022, 6:39 PM

Team news take

No surprises for Croatia, but the Argentina lineup has gone back to a 4-4-2 for this one, looking to be more compact in the middle. Having Leandro Paredes and Enzo Fernandez together centrally offers some crisp passing and some no-nonsense defending. Expect one of them to mark Luka Modric real right, especially at the top of the box and to try and have him get the ball wide.


Starting XIs

Croatia: Livakovic; Sosa, Gvardiol, Lovren, Juranovic; Kovacic, Brozovic, Modric; Perisic, Pasalic, Kramaric.
Argentina: Martinez; Molina, Romero, Otanemdi, Tagliafico; De Paul, Fernandez, Paredes; Mac Allister; Messi, Alvarez.


Mess is on another level

"While the international pressure has always been on him, and with failure after failure, the free-flowing superstar feels like he is in a looser mindset than ever before in terms of feeling the weight of the country on his shoulder. Whether that is a product of having won the Copa America last year to claim his first major title with his country is unknown, but this version of Messi, one that does not take the slightest amount of disrespect and celebrates each moment with his national team as if it were his last, has resulted in a player who is playing like there is nothing to lose and purely living in the moment. 

It has resulted in some pretty incredible moments so far in this World Cup, with Messi delivering on three different fronts."

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Team news -- Croatia

Dominik Livankovic and Dejan Lovern have repelled everything that has come their way in defense but with a Luka Modric led midfield, most of the sting has been taken out of attacks by the time that it gets to the defense. It will be tough for Argentina to contain Modric, Marcelo Brozovic and Mateo Kovacic. But if Croatia's attack won't get free space, that won't matter. That's where Ivan Perisic comes in. The 33-year-old has been critical to springing attackers and winning possession in the attacking third. If he can disrupt the Argentina back line, there will be a good chance to win the match.


Team news -- Argentina

Lionel Scaloni will need to replace Marcos Acuna and Gonzalo Montiel who are both suspended due to yellow card accumulation. Acuna has started four of Argentina's five matches at left back but Nicolas Tagliafico will be the likely deputy in his stead. A good passer, Tagliafico can bring a dynamic presence to the Argentina attack. They will also be boosted by the return of Angel Di Maria, who was only fit enough to enter at the end of the match against the Netherlands. Everything will hinge on Messi pulling the strings but if he can't add to his four goals and two assists, Argentina have other players who can make Croatia pay. - Chuck Booth


Argentina vs. Croatia: 'House of Champions'

Lionel Messi and company are two steps away from being crowned world champions, but they'll have their work cut out for them on Tuesday to overcome the experience and resilience of Croatia.

"House of Champions" examine the semifinal showdown.


How to watch and odds

  • Date: Tuesday, Dec. 13 | Time: 2 p.m. ET
  • Location: Lusail Ionic Stadium -- Lusail, Qatar
  • TV: FOX | Live stream: fuboTV (Try for free)
  • Odds: Argentina -128; Draw +285; Croatia +375 (via Caesars Sportsbook) 


Welcome in to the CBS Sports live blog! I'm Roger Gonzalez, and thanks for joining us for our live blog coverage of the World Cup! It's semifinal 1 day with Argentina vs. Croatia set for 2 p.m. ET! The South Americans are one win away from making it back to the final, while Croatia can make it back-to-back finals with a victory here. If the latter happens, it feels like it will come after the 90 minutes though as they have not won a knockout stage game in regulation since 1998! But three semifinal appearances since 1998 is quite an accomplishment, but they are hungry for more!