World Cup semi-finals: 3-0 against Croatia: Messi leads Argentina to the final

Argentina's coach cried as Lionel Messi hugged him after reaching the World Cup final.

World Cup semi-finals: 3-0 against Croatia: Messi leads Argentina to the final

Argentina's coach cried as Lionel Messi hugged him after reaching the World Cup final. "Gracias", thanks - that's all Lionel Scaloni could produce. The Argentinian superstar is now just one win away from his long-awaited first World Cup title.

Messi also led his team to a clear 3-0 (2-0) win over Croatia in the first semi-final of this World Cup. The six-time world footballer scored the first goal in the 34th minute with a penalty kick. The 35-year-old put the 2-0 and 3-0 up on his strike partner Julian Álvarez (39/69).

"There are so many things going through my head. I don't even know how to describe my feelings," said Messi. "When I see these people, the people, the families, this fan base that has been with us the whole time. Now we're in the final, that's what we wanted. It was incredibly fun to get this far. We have to enjoy it."

In front of 88,966 spectators at the Lusail Stadium, the Croatians could only match the individual class of the two Argentinian strikers in the early stages. They also missed out on their second appearance in the final in a row because it was precisely this nerve-racking team that made crucial defensive mistakes.

"We are really looking forward to the final"

Argentina is now waiting for its opponent in the final on Wednesday evening: defending champions France or the big surprise at the World Cup, Morocco. The South Americans won the title in 1978 and 1986. However, Messi himself has never advanced further in his previous four World Cup appearances than the 2014 final, which he lost 1-0 to Germany. He also confirmed again against Croatia that his fifth World Cup is by far his best.

Messi thanked his family after the triumph. "That's the most important thing for me. My wife - we went through difficult times, she was always by my side. This is also a victory for my family, but also for the Argentine football family." Double goalscorer Álvarez emphasized: "We deserve it. It's a great game that we made. It's a great joy for everyone. We're really looking forward to the final."

A Croatian loss of control helps Argentina

The game against 2018 finalists Croatia also began with the Paris Saint-Germain striker equaling a 24-year World Cup record set by Lothar Matthäus. Both have now been used 25 times at a World Cup. Messi is still five goals away from first place in the all-time World Cup goalscorers list. Miroslav Klose occupies it with 16 goals.

Otherwise, at least at the beginning, nothing went according to plan for Argentina's number 10. After just a few minutes, Messi grabbed his back left thigh several times and stretched his muscles. He was initially cut off from the game for the most part because the Croatians were already blocking the pass paths in the direction of the superstar and the support from their own teammates was quite clear. As in the quarter-final win against the Netherlands, coach Lionel Scaloni sacrificed the third offensive player in favor of a more defensive formation.

And so the favorite was helped by something that happened only very rarely at this and the last World Cup: a complete Croatian loss of control. Before the 1-0, the ball slipped under the sole of the great star Luka Modric from Real Madrid in midfield. Argentina's Enzo Fernandez sent a sharp pass to striker Álvarez, who was fouled in the penalty area by goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic - and Messi converted the penalty into the top right corner of the goal.

Croatia completely harmless and unimaginative

The 2-0 just five minutes later even came after a Croatian corner kick and an even more serious chain of errors. This time Messi played the ball to Álvarez - and two Croatian defenders sabered past him in the penalty area. Their much-praised toughness and stability let the Croatians down in the crucial minutes of a World Cup semi-final.

Shortly before and shortly after the break, they were lucky enough not to concede a third goal very quickly. Alexis Mac Allister (43rd) and Messi (58th) both failed because of the strongly reacting Livakovic.

The Croatians then threw almost everything their substitute bench had in attacking power into play: Mislav Orsic, Nikola Vlasic and Bruno Petkovic, the late scorer of the Brazil game, came on until the 50th minute. However, this did not make the 2018 World Cup finalist any more dangerous. Croatia remained completely harmless and unimaginative after a convincing first 20 minutes. Mario Mandzukic, the assistant coach responsible for the attackers in the squad, was no longer able to help either: the former Bayern striker saw the red card for protesting on the bench (35').