Lionel Messi led Argentina to World Cup glory, but it was the next generation who stole the show.
Julian Alvarez scored twice and set up Messi’s penalty goal as Argentina beat Croatia 3-0 to reach the final. They will face the winner of France and Morocco in Wednesday’s other semi-final.
“We deserved it, we played a great game today,” Alvarez said after the game on Fox. “We are in the finals. We want it. … We are very happy with what we have achieved and we want more.
In the 32nd minute, 22-year-old Alvarez dribbled between Croatia’s central defenders Dejan Lovren and Josko Guardiol and headed in 21-year-old midfielder Enso Fernandez’s cross. Goalkeeper Alvarez was fouled when he tried to tackle Croatia’s Dominik Livakovic and Argentina were awarded a penalty. Lionel Messi immediately scored and took a 1-0 lead.
Álvarez then led the attack as Argentina smothered the Croatians for a second goal. In the 39th minute, Alvarez collected the ball in his own field and headed the ball into the opponent’s goal. After a short deflection, the ball bounced back to Alvarez, who slotted past Livakovic for a 2-0 lead.
“It was a beautiful goal,” Alvarez told reporters after the game. “I don’t usually run with the ball a lot, but the situation presented itself.”
For his second goal, Alvarez let Messi do all the heavy lifting, making Messi’s jaw-dropping individual runs and assists. Messi dribbled past defender Josco Guardiol before squaring the ball to Alvarez, who was waiting for a pass in front of goal.
Fernandez controlled the middle of the pitch, helping Argentina push Croatia deeper into their own half and continued to pressurize their defence. This is the first world championship for Alvarez and Fernandez. None of them made their debut for Argentina before last year.
Lionel Scaloni, head coach of the Argentine national team, said: “Julian’s game was great not only because he scored two goals, but also because he helped our midfielders. “He played a great game for his age.”
In his first season at English Premier League superpower Manchester City, Alvarez scored three goals in three starts and 12 appearances. The club signed Alvarez from Argentine side River Plate for £14m last summer, fending off stiff competition for the prized talent.
The goals were Alvarez’s third and fourth of the tournament. He previously scored in Argentina’s wins over Poland and Australia as he replaced long-time starter Angel Di Maria in the starting line-up.
“I said this kid was going to be a superstar,” Argentina goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez said. “And you can see it.”