|Gvardiol endured a difficult night against Argentina but his stocks continue to rise. (Photo credit: BBC)|
The dream of a return to the final of the World Cup faded harshly for Croatia last night at the Lusail Stadium in Qatar after a Lionel Messi-inspired Argentina team delivered a masterclass to dump Croatia out of the race.
Argentina endured a difficult start as Matteo Kovacic and Luka Modric danced through the midfield and pegged Argentina back for the entirety of the opening exchanges but when it mattered most, Lionel Messi proved the difference as always.
Julian Alvarez was through on goal after a perfectly weighted pass from Messi but was unavoidably hacked down by Croatian goalkeeper Dominik Livanovic; talks will go on and on about the call, while there was little the goalkeeper could do, it was the right decision and a yellow card was justified.
Messi did what Messi does from the spot and it was 1-0 to Argentina. It can be argued that it would be different had the Croats gotten proven goal scorers in their squad but excuses aren’t allowed at this stage of the World Cup.
Alvarez tapped home from another team effort with just six minutes from the end of the first half and at that point, it was sailing away from Croatia. Every attempt to get back into the game was repelled by the Albiceleste defense and it got worse midway into the second half.
Alvarez got a cool pass from Messi and he showed why Manchester City rates him highly with another composed finish. It was a difficult night for the high-flying Croatian defense and a potentially anti-climax to the national team career of Luka Modric.
Interestingly, Lionel Messi and Luka Modric met for the first time in 2006 in a friendly in Serbia; Modric made his national team debut in the game and Messi scored his first ever international goal in a 3-2 win for the Croats.
The semi final game ended 3-0 in favor of Argentina and they will now face the winner between France and Morocco in the World Cup final on Sunday.