Argentina have qualified for their sixth World Cup final (Photo: FIFA World Cup)

In a clinical display, Argentina breezed past Croatia to become the first team to advance to the finals of the 2022 World Cup.

Going into the dying stages of the tournament, there was a lot at stake for both teams. For Argentina, winning the World Cup would give Lionel Messi the perfect send-off for his illustrious career by collecting the trophy which has eluded him.

A win for Croatia would solidify them as a top team in the international ranks and put them in the finals for the second consecutive World Cup, where they suffered heartbreak to France back in 2018.

The opening 30 minutes of the game was played at a high pace by both teams. The Argentines pressed their opponents while Croatia played a high defensive line. Although the favourites looked threatening on the break, the Croatians had more time on the ball, with their midfield controlling the game.

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In the 34th minute, Croatia were caught out by a long ball as Julián Álvarez ran behind the defence to go one-on-one with Croatian goalkeeper Dominik Livaković. While in a shooting position, Álvarez chipped the ball away from Livaković and was bought down in the box for a penalty.

Messi stepped up to take the penalty and smashed the ball into the top right corner to put Argentina up 1-0. The goal made him Argentina’s all-time leading World Cup goalscorer at 11 goals, passing the previous record held by Gabriel Batistuta.

After a failed corner from Croatia in the 39th minute, Argentina had another breakthrough as Álvarez made a run into the box after being played through by Messi and after a calamitous moment from the Croatian defence, the Manchester City striker poked the ball past the goalkeeper to make it 2-0.

The first half ended with Croatia needing something special to have any chance of getting to the finals for the second time in a row.

The Croatians came into the second half chasing the game with a high press, as their manager Zlatko Dalić made two substitutions at the break and a third five minutes into the half.

Argentina’s game plan in the second half was to defend deep and catch their desperate opponents on the counterattack, the strategy almost paid dividends for Argentina in the 57th minute, when Messi played a one-two pass with Álvarez before hitting it straight at the goalkeeper.

In the 69th minute, Messi had a moment of magic after he dazzled Croatian centreback Joško Gvardiol with his superb movement before cutting the ball back to Álvarez who tapped it into an open net.

In desperate search of a goal, Croatia fired multiple shots from outside the box but to no avail. The Argentines cruised to the final whistle to proceed to their sixth-ever World Cup final.

Argentina will next play the winner of the France vs Morocco game to determine the winner of the 2022 World Cup and a win would arguably solidify Lionel Messi’s position as the greatest football player of all time.

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