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A striker finally comes through for Lionel Messi and Argentina when needed most

Lionel Messi's recent World Cup past has been synonymous with infamous performances from Argentina's strikers. 

In the 2014 final, Gonzalo Higuaín was Argentina's worst player, slicing a glorious opportunity wide and failing to check his run on an offside goal. In 2018, Sergio Agüero fought with manager Jorge Sampaoli and got dropped. 

It looked like Messi and Argentina finally found a dependable striker for the big moments after Lautaro Martínez scored three goals in the 2021 Copa América and proved decisive in the 2022 Finalissima, but the 25-year-old played himself out of the starting lineup in Qatar after struggling against Saudi Arabia and Mexico.

Argentina looked destined for more of the same up top, but then 22-year-old Julián Álvarez emerged with a goal against Poland and the game-winner against Australia in the last-16.

On Tuesday, he became a legend in Argentina by earning the penalty that Lionel Messi converted for a 1-0 lead in the 34th minute. Then, in the 39th, Álvarez took possession inside his own half and barreled down on Croatia's defense.

Runners pulled Croatia's retreating backline this way and that as passing options emerged, but the Manchester City forward elected to drive forward. Maybe it wasn't a smart decision, but it turned out to be the best decision.

On the edge of the area, Josip Juranović's tackle made the ball bounce off Álvarez and then Borna Sosa's clearance bounced off Álvarez and suddenly Álvarez was clear through on Dominik Livaković.

It's the sort of goal Higuaín always dreamed of scoring for Argentina when he put his head down and finally reached top speed.   

Even Ronaldinho liked that one.

It wasn't "the Goal of the Century," more like "the defensive miscues of God."

In the 69th minute, Álvarez got his second, but this one was all Messi with the assist.

With Messi in this form and Álvarez delivering at the business end, Argentina has everything it needs for Sunday's final.  

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