Much More Than Just Messi Versus Modric

In 2006, Argentina vs Croatia happened via a friendly. Luka Modrić made his debut while Lionel Messi scored his first goal.

The 2022 World Cup semi-finals are on the horizon. After an unpredictable last 16 and quarterfinals, we’re heading towards the end of the tournament with four teams left. There are plenty of game changers still in the mix, great clashes and world class players who all have their eyes set on the most prized trophy in the world come December the 18th. The action begins today with the stubborn Croatia and Messi’s Argentina kicking off, on Wednesday defending champions France take on African underdogs Morocco.

Thisisfootball.Africa journalist, Joshua_Journo previews the first semi-final with key features to happen, players to know and his possible predictions. No matter what anybody thinks, this game is much more than just Messi versus Modric.

This is their third meeting at a World Cup, but the first in the knockouts. Argentina won the first meeting 1-0 in France 1998 in the group stage, with Croatia beating them 3-0 in 2018 in Russia.

Coach Zlatko Dalic’s ability to get the team into war mode is something that you cannot not replicate, and it will pose a huge threat to Argentina knowing how Croatia fought Brazil right up to and including penalties. This will be the one thing that worries Argentina the most. Croatia’s fighting spirit and their profound sanity to stay in games is a major worrying factor for the Argentinians. Luka Modric, Mateo Kovacic and Marcelo Brozovic have the technical ability on the ball to control the game in specific moments and when they must defend, they are disciplined, abrasive and organised.

Argentina, led by Lionel Messi, will still find it very hard to penetrate the Croatian rear guard and the longer the game stays in limbo, the more Croatia will grow in belief. They have a habit of pushing nations to the limit with eight of their past nine knockout matches at major tournaments having gone to extra time, beating both Japan and Brazil on penalties during their run in Qatar. Croatia will try to create the perfect storm and hope they take their moments with confidence. Disrupting Argentina and Messi for long spells and thereby ensuring enough problems for the time to run out. Their record in the showpiece speaks for itself and it suggests positive results.

Argentina have got the better players and their squad goes deep. With the pressure to deliver, getting to the final is a must. The expectation for Croatia was to basically at least get into the knock-out stages, given the age of some of their key players and lack of squad depth as compared to their opponents.

Croatia have found the net just twice in four games and scored in the 116th minute against Brazil with their only shot on target and even that needed the ball to be deflected to beat Allison Becker. With two games of extra time and penalties against Japan and Brazil, there is a concern that Croatia might run out of gas especially when coach Lionel Scaloni can turn to his world class boys on the side lines .


This is Messi’s last shot at winning a World Cup, and he has pushed Argentina to this stage by his brilliance. He isn’t the player he once was, with that burst of pace, but at 35, he is still capable of being the match winner. The reverse pass against the Netherlands, is something virtually no other player could pull off. Goals against Mexico and Australia set Argentina on their way to big wins. It is clear and obvious that Messi has created some of the big moments of this World Cup.

He will have to find something in his locker again to overcome a Croatia team that manages tournament football better than most. There is a growing sense of fate or destiny about Argentina. Take Messi out of the equation and Argentina are a side limited. A country that has produced some special players, there is a real shortage of a supporting cast for him. Argentina could use one of their former great strikers, such as Gabriel Batistuta or Carlos Tevez right now.

Argentina’s lack of pace hasn’t been a major factor so far, but as the tournament moves towards its decisive stage, the key details matter, and they will need to find something extra to beat the Croatians. Coach Scaloni’s team need to find a way to stop Modric from dominating the game with his movement of the ball in midfield, but that is the same challenge for all of Croatia’s opponents and few can pull it off. Sometimes it looks like he is just spreading the ball, not impacting play that much but he is a slow burner that becomes more influential as the game kicks on.

The Argentina goalkeeper has had his negatives in this tournament, but he rose to the occasion against Netherlands. Because no team takes games to penalties as often, and successfully, as Croatia, Argentina may need the Aston Villa number one to produce another heroic performance. Martinez’s role goes beyond his ability with penalties. He is a leader of note, a commanding presence and one who will try to dominate the penalty area as often as possible.

Luka Modric is the obvious match winner because of his control and experience, but RB Leipzig centre back Josko Gvardiol, only 20, has been one of the best young players at the World Cup and Croatia will need him to be in top form once again. Goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic was the star against Brazil, and you would think he’s going to have to make at least a couple of saves against Argentina if there’s going to be another shock result. If Croatia wants to hurt Argentina, their right-back Josip Juranovic is a good gateway. Juranovic caused Brazil countless problems with his dynamic dribbles down the right.


The way I see it, with Croatia going so deep into games this fixture might be a bridge too far. But they will go into extra-time again, instead of pushing for a win in regulation time. Argentina will most likely have the crowd on their side, and this will drive them all the way including the involvement of the substitutes which will play a key role. It will be tense and judging by the amount of chances Brazil got against Croatia, Argentina will probably have way more. Therefore I’m predicting an Argentina win, a hard fought low scoring workman-like victory.

Also Read: Brazil Coach Tite : End of a Cycle

In 2006, Argentina vs Croatia happened via a friendly. Luka Modric made his debut while Lionel Messi scored his first goal.
In 2006, Argentina vs Croatia happened via a friendly. Luka Modrić made his debut while Lionel Messi scored his first goal.