Argentina and Croatia are looking for a place in the World Cup final this Tuesday in Lusail (Qatar), in a tight duel between two teams with serious aspirations and led by Leo Messi and Luka Modric, both in the position to fight to continue aspiring to crown their careers with the World Cup crown.
The first ticket to the Qatar 2022 final is up for grabs. And it is being contested by an Argentina side that struggled against the Netherlands in the quarter-finals – winning a penalty shootout after being held to a 2-0 draw – and a Croatia side that also has a penchant, and good fortune, for penalty shootouts.
The Croats knocked out one of the favourites, Brazil, on penalties in the quarter-finals and previously beat Japan in the same way. With a green-clad hero in goal, Dominik Livakovic. And not just for saving penalties in the shoot-out, but for being decisive in the match and in extra time in both games.
The Balkans have shown they know how to suffer, as have the Argentinians, and this duel could be frenetic if, above all, it comes down to another penalty shootout. That lottery that, for some, is not so much a lottery. So far, in World Cups, two duels with a victory for each side. No draws. And the last one was in Russia 2018 with a clear Croatian victory.
Perhaps, because of history, Argentina arrive as slight favourites. With the joy of having overcome the drawn match against the Netherlands, with the anger of the celebration after a match that was hot and had everything, including several disputes and crosses of statements. Also Leo Messi’s famous ‘what are you looking at, you fool’.
The Argentine ’10’, the lighthouse and reference of this block, wants to culminate his career with the World Cup. He is two games away. And he is emerging as a leader on and off the pitch, as he showed in that post-match against the Oranje. Messi, who started off crestfallen with the defeat to Saudi Arabia, is leading Argentina to be a ‘phoenix’ and Croatia is the new obstacle to overcome.
A beautiful duel between Argentina and Croatia, between Messi and Modric. The Croatian captain is also looking for his big international milestone. After being runners-up at Russia 2018, the Croatians want to use the last bullet of Modric and other veterans to consecrate themselves. And, obviously, they are also two games away.
It’s all or nothing for both. As there will be no bullet in the chamber, they will have to take their chances. In Argentina, coach Lionel Scaloni will be able to count on all his players, including the injured Angel Di Maria and Rodrigo De Paul, except for the suspended Marcos Acuna and Gonzalo Montiel.
For their part, Croatia have no suspended players, but are coming off the back of two extra halves and it is for this reason that the coach will wait until the last minute to confirm the formation, although everything suggests that he will rely on the veteran ‘old boys’ with Perisic, Brozovic, Lovren, Modric and the company of those key youngsters like goalkeeper Livakovic and the centre-back, the wall, Josko Gvardiol.
«The game was played the way it had to be played, from both sides. This is football. There are times when you have to defend and times when you have to attack. It can get difficult like the other day, with arguments. We know how to lose and we know how to win,» Scaloni told a press conference, fed up with people saying that Argentina don’t know how to lose and don’t know how to win after that tense tussle with the Netherlands.
Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic, meanwhile, called for the match not to be another pitched battle. «I hope it doesn’t happen in this case,» he said. «I didn’t expect the Netherlands to come back at them. Thinking about the semi-finals, we are going to be a compact team. It’s crucial for both teams, but I think Argentina are under a lot more pressure,» he argued.
ARGENTINA: E.Martinez; Molina, Otamendi, Lisandro Martinez, Romero, Tagliafico; De Paul, Fernandez, Mac Allister; Alvarez and Messi.
CROATIA: Livakovic; Juranovic, Lovren, Gvardiol, Sosa; Modric, Brozovic, Kovacic; Kramaric, Pasalic and Perisic.
—REFEREE: Daniele Orsato (ITA).