Can Messi’s Argentina topple Croatia?

On 01 March 2006, Luka Modric made his debut for Croatia in a friendly game against Argentina. On the same day, Lionel Messi scored his first Argentina goal. Both, for the next 16 years, will grow to become the most important players for their national teams. Messi, a bit further to become arguably the greatest footballer of his generation.

Modric and Messi will collect the biggest award for footballers — The Ballon d’Or, win trophies for their prestigious Spanish clubs and most importantly take their teams to the finals of the World Cup.

This Tuesday they will wear the captain armband once again in the semifinal face-off between Croatia and Argentina at Lusail Stadium to decide will enter the finals again. This will likely be the last match for one of them in the World Cup.

The last time they met, in the 2018 World Cup group matches, Modric scored finishing the game 3-0 against Messi’s Argentina.

Any result from the game will not be a shocker as the highest drama is expected from the match. While Messi lifted his team from a defeat against Saudi Arabia in the World Cup opener to slay the dreams of Australia and Netherlands, Croatia knocked out World Cup favourites Brazil in the last game.

Croatia will try to do what they are best for the last five games in the tournament: rob possession from their opponents and play defensively. They gave in two draws in the group stage and finished second to Morocco in the table.

They won the last two games in penalties, thanks to the sharp goalkeeping of Dominik Livakovic. in front of him is Josko Gvardiol, Croatia’s talented stopper who pacified attacks from Brazil, Japan and Belgium. He will be in charge of obstructing the widely hailed dream of Messi.

The European side is undefeated until now. Ivan Perisic in the left wing of the pitch is in charge of Croatia’s attack. Modric will collect the ball from any side of the field and deliver it to the opponent’s penalty box.

If necessary, he will take things to his own legs and score.

“Modric is immortal. He is always ready, always prepared and always plays well. He is a player who changes games”, Carlo Ancelotti said of the Real Madrid and Croatia midfielder this summer.

For the Latin American team, it’s all about Messi. At least until the penalties.

The seven-time Ballon d’Or winner is the top contender for the best player in the tournament. He has been pivotal, scoring and assisting when Argentina needs the most. Even the sight of him on television turns fans into a frenzy.

Argentina’s coach, who shares the first name with Messi, Lionel Scaloni, is a devoted fan of the 35-year-old. That goes for most of his teammates, football critics, pundits commentators and fans.

Columns are written for the world to give Messi a World Cup for his contributions to the game. But it’s not how things will work.

While Messi gives his best in the opponent’s half, he is mostly absent in his team’s half. The responsibility of defending will fall on the 10 others in the blue shirts. They are happy with that role.

Then there is Di Maria, De Paul and Enzo Fernández who will control the midfield. Maria, like Messi, will be playing in his last World Cup.

Otamendi will make sure no Croatian plays will pass him to meet Emiliano Martinez. The goalkeeper is in high spirits after he salvaged the World Cup dreams for Argentina in the penalties against the Netherlands.

Last game, Messi showed a different side to his personality, angrily confronting Oranje boss Louis van Gaal and pausing a post-match interview to shout at Dutch striker Wout Weghorst. It indicates that Messi is desperate as he carries the heaviest dream of his country on his shoulders.