Argentina will face Croatia in the first semifinal of the World Cup at the Lusail Stadium in Qatar on Tuesday. These two teams also faced each other in the last World Cup, where Croatia had a convincing 3-0 win.
Croatia finished runners-up in russia and will definitely fancy their chances of qualifying for their second consecutive final.
Argentina, on the other hand, will keep relying on the genius of Lionel Messi to harbor the dreams of their third World Cup title.
We now take a look at two things that might determine the fate of the match.
Moments of individual brilliance from Messi helping Argentina again
The 35-year-old Messi has already produced a few magical moments in this cup, including his goal against Australia after slaloming past a few opposition players and his assist against the Netherlands after overcoming the challenge of several Dutch players.
The Argentine supporters will continue to believe Messi can produce the Midas touch in the semifinal, too. Messi should be playing just behind the striker in Argentina’s 4-4-1-1, but effectively he is going to have a free role.
He will keep falling back in his bid to create moves from deep, but Argentina will miss the services of Marcos Acuña (suspension), who has been a key component in their attack thus far. Nicolas Tagliafico will play as the left-back, but he is not as offensive a player as Acuña.
As a result, the Argentines will not be able to switch to a 3-5-2 as smoothly as they have with Acuña in the team. With Angel Di Maria playing as the right wing-back in that formation and Alexis Mac Allister shifting inside, Tagliafico will have to go into overlaps if Argentina are to continue playing with the above formation.
However, Croatia also have one of the best defenses in the tournament and will surely not want to be mere spectators while Messi’s genius is on display. Both Marcelo Brozovic and Mateo Kovacic will have to track back to negate Messi’s runs with the ball. It has to be remembered in this context that Croatia conceded the goal against Brazil following one such explosive run by Neymar.
Moreover, Josko Gvardiol, who has been one of the outstanding defenders in the tournament, should also ensure that Messi is not able to shoot or play incisive passes from the edge of the box, either of which could prove to be fatal for Croatia. Still, Dominik Livakovic might have to prove his mettle once again to bail his team out.
Croatia can be lethal in the air
Croatia will take a page out of the Netherlands’ book by following their example of playing crosses into the Argentine penalty box from either wing, which enabled them to make a comeback from a two-goal deficit.
The Croatians have a big centre-forward in Bruno Petkovic, who can prove to be decisive from an aerial ball played into the box. Still, it has to be kept in mind the aerial defending of the likes of Nicolas Otamendi, Cristian Romero and Lisandro Martinez was top-notch for the most part in the match against the Dutch.
Josip Juranovic, who has had a fine tournament as the Croatian right-back, might play a key role once again with his speedy runs down the flank and his ability to play quality crosses into the box. Ivan Perisic, who had a relatively quiet match against Brazil, will try to do the same from the left flank to unnerve the Argentine defense.
The veteran Luka Modric should keep playing as the deep-lying playmaker and pull the string judiciously with his adroit and intelligent passing. It will up to the likes of Enzo Fernandez to try to limit Modric’s impact on the match, but then the Croatian midfielder plays a lot of his forward passes from inside his own half, making it difficult for the opposition players to mark him.