Julian Alvarez is wearing an oversized Argentinian sweater, grinning and wide-eyed as he poses with Lionel Messi for a photo. There’s a video from around the same time of Alvarez sporting the baby face, still wearing an ill-fitting T-shirt and shuffling while giving an interview:
“What is your dream?”
“Play World Cup.”
“Who is your idol?”
Alvarez was 12 years old at the time. A decade later, he realizes his dream while playing alongside his idol.
Álvarez scored twice and played a vital role in Messi’s continued scoring as Argentina broke Croatia’s resilience by beating them 3–0 to enter the World Cup final.
The first was a goal from Messi. The second was a messy one. The third belonged to Alvarez, but he will be remembered for Messi’s magic.
The focus before the start of the semi-final was, rightly so, on Messi and Modric. After all, the Croat had doubled his Argentinian counterpart from the previous encounters. In 2006, when Modric made his World Cup debut, Croatia beat Messi’s Argentina 3-2. In 2018, Modric was on target as his side defeated Argentina 3-0.
The circle was complete for Julián Álvarez 🙏
“What is your dream in football?”
“Playing at a World Cup.”
“Who is your idol?”
— 𝐓𝐡𝐞 𝐒𝐩𝐨𝐫𝐭𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐍𝐞𝐰𝐬 (@sportingnews) December 13, 2022
In the first half on Tuesday, it seemed for a long time that the same script would follow. Croatia’s third midfield controlled the game, handled the ball smoothly and had more possession. Argentina looked like they were struggling.
Messi was literally just walking around, sauntering between the circle and the penalty area. He grabbed his hamstring a few times, worrying about his ability to continue. Nothing really happened for the first 30 minutes.
10 years ago: Asking Leo Messi for a photo as a huge fan, ever dreaming of a World Cup…
Tonight: Julián Álvarez from Calchín scores in the World Cup semi-final.
— Fabrizio Romano (@FabrizioRomano) December 13, 2022
And then Enzo Fernandez played a straight ball down the middle, Alvarez went one-on-one with Dominik Livakovic and tried to tap the ball over him. He cleared the shot, but the goalkeeper checked him as he completely missed the ball, when the referee pointed to the spot, a decision that sparked controversy with Croatia claiming otherwise.
Messi, who equaled Lothar Matthaus’ record number of World Cup appearances (25), stepped up and shot the ball into the net to give Argentina the advantage.
That goal made Croatia do exactly what it hadn’t done in the World Cup until then: go crazy (they got two yellow cards and Mario Mandzukic, a member of the coaching staff, was sent off), lost their form and allowed space . in their own half.
Alvarez, whose work rate had gone largely unnoticed due to Messi’s brilliance to date, chose this moment to step out of the shadow of his idol. An unnecessary challenge by a Croatian player in Argentina’s half handed possession to Alvarez and the 22-year-old raced all over the field, beating a pair of opponents to enter the Croatian penalty area, unleashed a shot that ricocheted off Croatian defenders before going past Livakovic .
It was a lucky goal, but one that justified Alvarez’s nickname of “the spider,” given to him by one of his siblings because he could run with the ball so well it looked like he had more than two legs.
If the first Argentine goal was controversial and the second a bit coincidental, the third was down to Messi’s sheer brilliance.
The Argentina captain brought down the right wing, with Josko Gvardiol at his side. The Croatian defender, one of the finds of the World Cup, had followed Messi all night. At this time, Messi left his chasing shadows. The 35-year-old drifted to the edge of the penalty area, braked suddenly, turned and stood with his back to goal, giving the impression that he was about to play a back pass. Then he suddenly spun past his marker – 15 years his junior – to sprint to the sideline and cut a pass back for Alvarez, who tapped the ball in from six yards out.
Messi probably came up with the assist of the World Cup in the quarterfinals in setting up Argentina’s opening goal against the Netherlands. This one will be up there as one of the best assists of the tournament.
The goal ended any hope Croatia had had of an unlikely comeback. For the second time in the last three editions, Argentina is in the final of the World Cup. The last time, in 2014, Messi was the player of the tournament, but he lost when Argentina narrowly missed out on winning the trophy.
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