Croatia knew exactly what it would take to make it to the final as they had been there four years previously. However, they did not have to deal with Lionel Messi, the difference-maker in this match as he lifted his Argentinian side to a 3-0 win.
While Croatia began the match with the bulk of possession, they had little to show for it. Ever the patient team at this year’s World Cup, they were content to wind the pace down and force Argentina to slow their game.
Argentina did look for opportunities to push through, trying to exploit space between the defensive line, but much of their attack was ended before it ever began by the strength and experience of the Croatian midfield.
In fact, Argentina did not register their first shot until the 25th minute, a long one from a good 25 yards out. That summed up the frustration creeping into the Argentinian side, their creativity and precision goalscoring being forced into long shots.
Croatia was not much better in terms of an offensive threat. But so far in this tournament, that has suited them fine as they have seemed content to wind down the clock, always knowing their opportunity would come.
But still, Argentina did hit first, and it was their talisman that gave them the go-ahead. Messi stepped up to take a penalty after Dominik Livaković took a man down in his 18-yard box in the 33rd minute. A harsh penalty call to be sure, but Messi was not about to let this opportunity go.
Argentina doubled their lead in the 39th minute off a brilliant run by Julián Álvarez. Traversing the length of the pitch, he had to dribble around two Croat players in the box before being able to slide it into the back of the net.
Messi almost had a third for Argentina a couple of minutes later but Livaković managed to get down to turn it away from the net.
The second half saw a match that was much more open. Croatia had 45 minutes to draw even, more than enough time but still, not much at all.
However, Argentina was not done. Messi found his magic once more, undressing Joško Gvardiol with his footwork. The pass into danger found Álvarez who got his second on the night in the 69th minute.
Special mention must be given to Luka Modrić who was subbed off in the 81st minute. It was likely the end of a long Croatian career for the midfielder and a player that will be sorely missed going forward.
Croatia fought until the end, but there were few chances to find. Argentina’s 3-0 triumph booked their spot in the final alongside the winner of France and Morocco.
A total of five matches have been played between Argentina and Croatia. The series is split with two wins apiece. The other match was a nil-nil draw back in 1994.
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