Argentina captain Lionel Messi has called Julian Alvarez “spectacular” and “extraordinary” after the 22-year-old’s brace against Croatia helped them qualify for the World Cup final.
Manchester City’s Alvarez took his tally to four, one behind top scorers Messi and Kylian Mbappe.
Argentina, who last won the World Cup in 1986, faces France on Sunday.
“Nobody imagined that Julian would have the participation and importance that he has shown,” Messi said.
“The help he has given us has been absolutely spectacular.”
Messi, 35, has been making headlines in Qatar, with a string of star performances in what he has confirmed is his fifth and final World Cup.
He scored five goals and created three of Argentina’s 12 – leaving Alvarez’s contribution to go under the radar a bit.
The young striker was not expected to feature prominently for Argentina in this tournament and only made substitute appearances in their loss to Saudi Arabia and win over Mexico, coach Lionel Scaloni initially preferring Inter Milan’s Lautaro Martinez.
Alvarez has started all four matches since, though, culminating in his impressive performance in the 3-0 semi-final win, in which he was brought down for Messi’s first penalty, before scoring both goals himself. following.
“During the whole World Cup, but also on Tuesday, he was extraordinary,” added Messi. “He led it all. He fought for everything – creating chances, fighting. For us he was the startling discovery, and he deserves everything that happened to him because he’s a lovely guy.”
‘Messi – don’t run. I’ll do it for you’
Manchester City signed Alvarez from River Plate for €17m (£14.1m) in January 2022.
He agreed a five-and-a-half-year deal with City but remained on loan to the Argentine champions until July.
This season he has made 12 Premier League appearances – mostly from the substitutes’ bench – and scored three goals.
Former Argentina and City defender Pablo Zabaleta says “BBC Sport Alvarez’s work rate is incredible”.
“He’s playing alongside Lionel Messi up front and it looks like from the outside that he’s like, ‘Messi – don’t run. I will do it for you,” he added.
“It takes a big heart [to do that]. He started the World Cup on the bench but then [got] a chance and he was brilliant.”
Former England midfielder Jermaine Jenas said: “At such a young age to come onto this stage and achieve this type of performance, at this time for his country – unbelievable.”
Alvarez’s performances in Qatar will leave Manchester City fans excited for what lies ahead.
He scored seven goals in eight international matches. He became the second Argentine player to score four goals at a World Cup aged 22 or younger, after Gonzalo Higuain in 2010.
And he also became the youngest player to score more than one goal in a World Cup semi-final since Brazil legend Pele scored a hat-trick in a 5-2 win over France in 1958.