Anybody with a set of eyes can see that Lionel Messi has been the best player at the 2022 World Cup. With five goals and three assists, he's been the key to Argentina getting all the way to the final following the 3-0 win over Croatia on Tuesday in the semifinals. But, it's obviously a team game, and other players have stepped up to put the South Americans within reaching distance of the ultimate prize. There's been Cristian Romero in defense, Enzo Fernandez in the middle and countless more. From the opening loss to Saudi Arabia to an incredible run in the knockout stage, this team quickly changed though after the slow start, it's been for the better, and much better than anybody could have envisioned.
Julian Alvarez has been the reason why.
Over the years, Messi has had those superstar forwards whose club form was rarely replicated in that of the iconic, vertical white and blue stripes. We are talking after the era of guys like Hernan Crespo and Javier Saviola, where the likes of Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain went missing in the biggest spots. Prolific in their own right, rarely did they have the chemistry and composure wearing the AFA badge when the lights were at their brightest. He's needed that complementary star, and now he's got him.
Alvarez, at the age of just 22, has taken hold of the position, sent a budding superstar in his own right, Lautaro Martinez, to the bench and has not looked back. The chemistry on the pitch with Messi is obvious, with each knowing where the other is, knowing when to stay close to combine, and they each had a role in the three goals with Alvarez scoring two.
First, Alvarez won the penalty that Messi scored for the opener.
There was no stopping this penalty kick by Messi 🎯🇦🇷 pic.twitter.com/TrGy8v1wYJ— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) December 13, 2022
Then Alvarez scored the second with a wild solo run that came after Messi got the counter going.
This view of Julián Álvarez's run on the second Argentina goal 😍🔥 pic.twitter.com/M1VE73BtpE— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) December 13, 2022
Lastly, in one of the goals of the tournament, Messi taught Josko Gvardiol a lesson or two with an absolutely unbelievable run before setting up the third ... to Alvarez.
Poetry in Motion ✍️😍— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) December 13, 2022
This assist by Messi was perfection 🙌 pic.twitter.com/itOy7X1WJm
The Manchester City man, who not long ago scored six in a single game for River Plate , has been the Robin to Messi's Batman at a moment when it has been most needed. One of the highest-rated prospects out of Argentina in some time, probably since Aguero, all he's done is score more goals in one World Cup than Aguero did in his entire career.
With Lionel Scaloni fielding a fairly young team, Alvarez took the starting job over against Poland in the third game for the ineffective Martinez, and he's been delivering ever since. In his first World Cup, he is just one goal behind Higuain for total World Cup goals, having already matched Crespo and surpassed the likes of Carlos Tevez and Saviola.
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Does that not put it in perspective enough? Nicknamed "La Araña," which means "The Spider," Alvarez is potentially on his way to even breaking some of Messi's records on the international level with his quick shots and decisive touches.
Alvarez has four World Cup goals by the age of 22, an age where Messi only had one. In fact, it took Messi three World Cups to reach four goals scored. It took Alvarez just four starts in Qatar.
Now either France or Morroco will await in Sunday's final in what will be the biggest game in the careers of both Messi and Alvarez with Messi nearing the end of his and Alvarez only just starting. Thirteen years of age separate two players who have now been inseparable on the pitch, whose play has inspired a country and the world. The trip to Qatar did not start as they had expected, but because of them, it could end how they always hoped.