Argentina and Croatia will face each other in the World Cup semifinals on Tuesday at 2 p.m. ET from Lusail Stadium. Both teams have extra reason to feel motivated to make it to the final (besides the fact that, you know, it’s the World Cup).
Croatia was the runner up in the last World Cup when they lost to France in 2018. Argentina is playing with superstar Lionel Messi, who’s never won the title, for the last time. Argentina will be looking to reach the World Cup final for the sixth time, bettered only by Germany (eight times). The Albiceleste have never lost at the semifinal stage.
Messi vs Modric
Lionel Messi and Luka Modric are two of the greatest soccer players to ever play in the World Cup, and now they will face each other as captains of their respective teams in a fight to make it to the World Cup final.
Messi has both scored and assisted in three different World Cup games – no other player has ever done so on four separate occasion. He has scored four goals in five games, and his assist to Nahuel Molina in their quarterfinals victory over the Netherlands was a thing of beauty.
“Mesi is an animal,” said an Argentina fan after their defeat over the Netherlands in the quarterfinals. “He is like wine, the year go by and he plays better. They can’t get it off him because the ball is tied to his feet.”
The last time Argentina reached the World Cup final was in 2014 when they lost 1-0 to Germany in Brazil. Messi, who will retire from international soccer after the tournament, faces his last chance to lift the trophy, once and for all. Of course, soccer teams are just that – a team. Even still, this Argentina team would look a lot different without Messi and I doubt very much they would be where they are without him.
“We don’t have a specific plan, at least not yet, for stopping Messi,” said Petkovic. “And usually we don’t concentrate on stopping one player, but the whole team. And the way we approach that is that we need to stop them as a team, not by man-marking or some kind of similar tactic.”
Argentina came into the World Cup as one of the favorites. But so did Brazil, and Croatia eliminated them. Croatia, led by their own superstar Luka Modric, stunned Brazil in the quarterfinals. They were down by a goal in extra time, but fought hard to come back when Bruno Petkovic scored the equalizer to force a penalty shootout, which they won. Croatia have won all four of their penalty shootouts at the World Cup, including two at this tournament. Only Argentina have won more with five.
“I think there are many people who are not even professional soccer players who can take a penalty kick. The difference is how mentally tough you can be at those moments because it’s huge pressure,” said Petkovic. “Sometimes it’s pressure that you’ve never experienced before. Of course, it’s easier if you have a top-class goalkeeper who can save a penalty and give the whole team confidence.”
Luka Modric has made the most World Cup appearances (17) and most appearances at major tournaments (30) for Croatia.
Messi and Modric history
This will be the sixth time that Argentina and Croatia will play each other, having previously played three friendlies and two World Cup games. The first was an international friendly in 2006 which Croatia won 3-2, despite a Messi goal in the first 10 minutes.
The last time they met was in the 2018 World Cup in Russia, when Croatia beat them 3-0 in the group stage, including a goal by Modric. Croatia went on to the finals and lost to France while Argentina lost 4-3 in the Round of 16 to the eventual champions, France.
Now they face each other in the 2022 World Cup semifinals in Qatar where the pressure is on for both of these captains to lead their team to the final.