Lionel Messi managed to skip Argentina to Croatia and to the final of the World Cup

LUSAIL, Qatar – And so Lionel Messi will get his shot, a chance to give his legacy everything a footballer could ask for, to go from greatness to true immortality.

Once again, Messi was front and center in everything for Argentina in their 3-0 World Cup semi-final victory over Croatia at Lusail Stadium on Tuesday. This night was about him as it always is. That’s just the way it goes when you have one of the best players ever, at 35, chasing the ultimate validation.

Argentina will play for the final prize on Sunday (10 a.m. ET on FOX and the FOX Sports app).

His contribution to his team’s first goal was to calmly and furiously shoot from the penalty spot after overtime by the others. Argentina’s second goal came in a superb solo run from Julian Alvarez.

[Related: Lionel Messi’s World Cup résumé stands apart as he pushes Argentina into final]

Then, 69 minutes later, it was the real masterstroke, the dazzling Messi running close to the halfway line before latching on a pass to Alvarez to finish the game and negate any slight chance of a response.

The penalty kick, awarded by Messi after Álvarez was hit in the penalty area by goalkeeper Dominik Levakovic, was non-stop pushed into the top corner on 34 minutes. Not only did he put the South American ahead against the run of the game, but he catapulted Messi to a solo spot as his country’s top scorer at World Cup finals with 11 points, breaking a tie with Gabriel Batistuta.

Sure enough, it was so long ago that Argentina lost their opening match in this World Cup in a stunning upset to Saudi Arabia, and we briefly wondered if they could even make it out in the group stage.

Now, the opportunity is to face Diego Maradona’s historic title in 1986 and make up for the disappointment of 2014, when Messi was excellent to qualify for the final, but was defeated by Germany on that big night.

Here, everything was set up by Argentina’s explosiveness at the end of the first half and the opening goal that changed the character of the night. With Croatia under pressure, Alvarez’s quick break showed clear and unmarked, before he was fouled by Levakovic, who was booked for his trouble.

Levakovic, who was very effective in the penalty shootout for Croatia, had no chance when Messi shot with his left foot at a perfect angle, high and to the left of the goalkeeper.

Lionel Messi leads BK

Lionel Messi leads BK

Lionel Messi scores a penalty to give Argentina an early lead.

Croatia did not score first in any of its matches in the tournament, with two goalless draws in the group, coming from behind against Canada, and two penalty shootout wins after draws against Japan and Brazil.

The 2018 finalist would have liked his chances to fight again in this bout, but a two-goal hole was a different proposition.

The second came when Álvarez got into a counter and had options to pass the ball to both sides, only to decide to go on his own. A pair of defenders’ rebounds fell straight into his path, and the Manchester City striker slotted the ball into the net to extend the advantage.

Julian Alvarez makes it 2-0

Julian Alvarez makes it 2-0

Minutes later it had been almost three minutes when Levakovic saved Alexis McAllister’s header. In this way, the stinger was taken out by Croatia, so resolute all season behind midfield supremacist Luka Modric.

Zlatko Dalic’s side tried to press forward in the second half, but Argentina were in control. Messi, of course, is not done yet. His dance track wouldn’t be thwarted, and when he reached the finish line he just needed to hit Alvarez’s unmarked lane.

Messi sets up Alvarez

Messi sets up Alvarez

Argentina’s Julian Alvarez made it 3-0 in the 69th minute, putting Argentina in complete control.

Success breeds opportunity, and that’s what Argentina has right now.

The chance to become the first World Cup winner from outside Europe for 20 years. To secure the biggest soccer trophy for the third time. To complete the resurrection from that bad beginning.

And to give Messi everything.

Highlights Argentina and Croatia

Highlights Argentina and Croatia

Lionel Messi leads Argentina to the World Cup final on Sunday.

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Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports and author of the FOX Sports Insider newsletter. Follow him on Twitter @MRogersFOX And the Subscribe to our daily newsletter.

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