The dream lives on for Lionel Messi and Argentina.
La Albiceleste secured a 3-0 win over Croatia in their 2022 FIFA World Cup semifinal matchup on Tuesday in style.
Argentina opened the game with a base 4-4-2 starting shape after opening the quarterfinal matchup against the Netherlands with a back three, but manager Lionel Scaloni changed it up with Lisandro Martinez going to the bench and Angel Di Maria not fully fit to start.
Croatia kept its 4-3-3 shape that it used all throughout Qatar, with the midfield triumvirate of Luka Modric, Marcelo Brozovic and Mateo Kovacic leading the way.
The Vatreni controlled the ball for the opening 15 minutes of the game. The midfield trio kept things ticking and got the ball out wide to threaten Argentina, but La Albiceleste’s backline cleaned up any crosses that came inside the box.
The momentum started to flip for Argentina in the following 10 minutes as its 4-4-2 midblock and counterpress hindered Croatia’s progressive passing lanes, and Enzo Fernandez’s 24th-minute shot that forced Dominik Livakovic into a low save seemed to be a warning sign for what was to come.
About 10 minutes later, Argentina opened up the Croatian defense when Alvarez made a run right in between the two center backs, and it forced Livakovic to step out of his line and rush to stop the shot. However, the players collided and Argentina received a penalty attempt, which Messi drilled home to the top-right corner.
The problems continued for Croatia when Alvarez got on the board just five minutes later. He made another run through the middle of the Vatreni defense, this time carrying the ball from midfield. Croatia had two chances to clear it out, but both attempts failed and Alvarez eventually put it home past Livakovic to make it 2-0.
By the end of the first half, Argentina had five shots with four hitting the target compared to Croatia’s four with none on target. Croatia could afford to concede first if it responded back, but going down two was out its pocket. Argentina, meanwhile, exploited Croatia by playing more centrally instead of trying to stretch the defense, as it got Messi more involved to make plays.
Croatia came out in the second half making two tactical changes. The 4-3-3 stayed the same but manager Zlatko Dalic dropped left winger Ivan Perisic into the left back role with Nikola Vlasic and Mislav Orsic coming on for more attacking juice.
But matters got worse for Croatia when Brozovic was forced off with a knock, and the midfield quality went down a tad that Argentina got the better of.
Croatia tried knocking on the door when Dejan Lovren had a header opportunity in the 62nd minute, but Emiliano Martinez kept it out and sent the ball forward. The pressure in transition eventually led to Messi setting up Alvarez for the third goal of the game in the 69th minute.
Croatia just didn’t offer enough going forward throughout the game to cause real danger, and Argentina closed it out with a back five formation to advance to the World Cup Final for the first time since 2014 when it finished as runner-ups to Germany.
The Vatreni will play the loser of France vs. Morocco in the third-place game after finishing the 2018 tournament in Russia as the runner-ups to France.
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