The semi-finals are here – and on one side of the draw in particular, we’ve been blessed with an incredible match-up between two countries whose World Cup credentials precedes them. Argentina vs Croatia has all the hallmarks of an absolute classic, with both sides boasting some of the game’s best players who compete in the most elite and competitive domestic leagues in Europe.
Argentina are looking for their first World Cup triumph since 1986 – when all-time great Diego Maradona guided the La Albiceleste to a 3-2 victory over West Germany in Mexico City. The current squad will be particularly motivated to hoist the trophy this year for their captain Lionel Messi, who stated prior to the quadrennial tournament that Qatar’s renewal will be his last.
Conversely, Croatia will be looking to book their second consecutive World Cup final appearance. The Blazers had a similarly dream run in Russia four years ago, securing their place in the final two for the first time when they defeated England 2-1 at the Luzhniki Stadium. They would ultimately go on to lose the final 4-2 to France – however – with much of that squad having returned this time around – Luka Modric and company will be looking to go one further in the Middle East.
They will have their hands full with this star-studded Argentina outfit – who are currently the heavy favourites in the latest odds on Argentina vs Croatia at 4/5. But given the camaraderie and familiarity that exists within this Croatian group, they have more than enough to challenge the Lionel Scaloni-managed side.
If Croatia are to upset the applecart however, they’ll need to get the better of the key match-ups on the night. With that in mind, read on as we take a look at two of the match-ups that could very well determine who reigns supreme at Lusail Stadium.
Lionel Messi vs Luka Modric
In what is arguably the most enthralling match-up across both semi-final fixtures, Croatia’s Luka Modric and Argentina’s Lionel Messi will go head-to-head in the midfield like they have on so many occasions in the La Liga in the past. Both men have been in exceptional form at the World Cup, with Messi’s ability to create something out of nothing arguably the greatest we’ve ever seen on a football pitch.
With four goals and two assists to his name at this tournament so far, he remains a threat every time he touches the ball. If Croatia’s defenders give the little maestro too much time and room to move, he will tear them to shreds. However, if Josko Gvardiol and company can use their size and physicality to frustrate Argentina’s number 10, it will go a long way at helping their chances.
While Croatia’s main man in the middle Modric doesn’t have as eye-popping statistics as that of Messi – the influence he has on his team’s success is just as important. The 37-year-old has been instrumental in Croatia’s wins at this World Cup, consistently dictating the tempo from the opening whistle and breaking down opposition defences with intricate and precision passing. If Modric can help Croatia stick to its surgeon-like structure and starve Argentina of the ball – they’re a good shot of securing their second World Cup final berth.
Julian Alvarez vs Josip Juranovic
There’s no doubting the enormous talent Argentina’s forward Julian Alvarez possesses. The Manchester City star has shone in the blue and white in Qatar, scoring twice at the tournament thus far – including a peach of a goal in their 2-0 win over Poland. His ever-present goalscoring threat from anywhere in and around the 18-yard box makes him a nightmare to defend, as he can either do it all himself and produce a highlight-reel goal, or draw defenders and open up space for his teammates in the box.
Those components to Alvarez’s game are what makes him so dangerous – which means that Croatian defender Josip Juranovic will need to be near-flawless at the back if he’s to limit the 22-year-old’s damage. Juranovoic proved in his last outing against Brazil that he is more than capable of taking on the world’s best attacking players – as he had one of the most daunting tasks of defending the likes of the Selecao’s Neymar Jr., Vinicius Jr. and Richarlison in the quarter-final.
He passed with flying colours, and if he can replicate that performance and stop Alvarez from taking over the game – Croatia could be very good value in the betting lines at 4/1.