At 35, and he could hardly be playing any better, Lionel Messi converted a penalty and set up Julián lvarez for the other two goals as Argentina defeated Croatia to advance to the title game.
It will be Messi’s second World Cup final — Argentina lost the other one to Germany in 2014 — in what might be his last appearance at the tournament.
It could yet be the perfect way to go out for a player widely regarded as one of the game’s best players, if not the best.
Croatia failed in its bid to reach a second straight World Cup final after conceding two goals in a five-minute span from the 34th minute, just when the team was looking comfortable at Lusail Stadium.
There was a moment midway through the first half that must have struck fear into all Argentines, when Messi appeared clutch his left hamstring and rub it.
Was Argentina’s superstar going to have to come off? No such luck for Croatia.
Messi was soon toying with his opponents in a way only he can and put Argentina ahead by lifting his penalty into the top corner after Álvarez was taken out by Dominik Livakovic after clipping the ball past Croatia’s goalkeeper.
Álvarez poked home his first goal at the end of a surging run from halfway, starting with Messi's short pass. He put in the third following more outrageous skill from his teammate near the right corner that left Josko Gvardiol — one of the best defenders at the World Cup — grasping at thin air.
It was one game too far for Croatia, which had beaten Japan and Brazil on penalties in the knockout stage, and star midfielder Luka Modric, who is 37, has likely played his final World Cup match.
Argentina maintained its record of never having lost in the World Cup semifinals and has reached the final for the sixth time.
Argentina will now face the winner of the France-Morocco clash set for Wednesday. The World Cup championship match will be played December 18 at Lusail Stadium.