Lionel Messi-inspired Argentina thump 2018 runners-up Croatia to set up a World Cup final against either France or Morocco.

Julian Alvarez scores Argentina's second goal.
Julian Alvarez scores Argentina's second goal. (Reuters)

Two goals by swashbuckling striker Julian Alvarez and a Lionel Messi penalty have given Argentina a 3-0 victory over 2018 runners-up Croatia in the first World Cup semi-final to set up a showpiece meeting with France or Morocco on Sunday.

On Tuesday, Messi put Argentina ahead with a 34th-minute penalty after goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic tripped Alvarez as he chased a simple long ball and the Manchester City forward then charged 50 metres, somehow keeping possession via two rebounds as defenders tried to tackle him, to poke in the second five minutes later.

Croatia, who came from behind to beat Japan and Brazil on penalties in the last two rounds, tried to hit back in the second half but their neat passing failed to open any real cracks in a determined Argentine defence.

Messi then burst into life, showing mesmerising control to drive to the byline and pull the ball back for Alvarez to tuck in the third after 69 minutes and wrap up the victory. 

READ MORE: Argentina oust Netherlands in penalties to reach World Cup semi-final

All eyes on Morocco vs France

Croatia, runners-up in Russia four years ago, paid the price for some untypically poor defending as they went out in the last four for the second time after their 1998 loss to France in their maiden tournament.

Messi, 35, who suffered defeat to Germany in the 2014 final, is desperate to crown his extraordinary career by winning his first World Cup and bringing Argentina a third title to add to those won in 1978 and 1986.

Clinching the world title would also elevate seven-time Ballon D'Or winner Messi to the mythical status that the late Diego Maradona enjoys in Argentina.

On Sunday they will face either defending champions France or surprise package Morocco, the first Arab country in a World Cup semi-final, who will play each other on Wednesday. 

READ MORE: Brazil, Argentina target semi-final but Croatia, Netherlands can surprise

Source: TRTWorld and agencies