Argentina v Croatia (Lusail Iconic Stadium, Lusail)
Billed as the World Cup last chance saloon for Messi and Modric, the 13th will be unlucky for one of them later today.
With what we consider to be the modern day country of Croatia coming into existence in the early nineties after the breakup and war in Yugoslavia, the team’s history is a relatively short one. In the case of games against Croatia, the Semi Final encounter in Lusail will only be the fifth occasion they have met Argentina.
The first was a friendly played in Zagreb in 1994 which ended 0-0, with the first competitive meeting coming four year later at the World Cup in France. This group stage game was settled in the first half by a goal from Mauricio Pineda as Argentina claimed the win 1-0. Croatia recorded their first win over the South American team in a friendly in 2006 played in Switzerland. The opening to the game was frantic as Argentina led 2-1 after just six minutes, with goals from Carlos Tevez and Lionel Messi. However, second half goals from Darijo Srna and Dario Simic saw Croatia home to a 3-2 victory. The next time they met in 2014 was also a friendly and was played at West Ham United’s former ground at Upton Park, where a crowd of 19,834 witnessed a 2-1 win for Argentina. Croatia went in at the break ahead 1-0 thanks to an eleventh minute goal from Anas Sharbini but were undone by goals from Cristian Ansaldi (49’) and a Messi penalty (57’). The last meeting for these teams was in the group stages of the World Cup with Croatia blowing away Argentina with three second half goals from Ante Rebic (53’), Luka Modric (80’) and Ivan Rakitic (90’).
In getting to this point in the 2022 competition, Argentina started with a 2-1 loss to Saudi Arabia, but recovered with two 2-0 wins over Mexico and Poland to take top spot in Group C. They then overcame Australia 2-1 in the last sixteen before a penalty shoot-out victory against the Dutch in the last eight.
For Croatia, it was a second place finish in Group F after a 0-0 with Morocco, a 4-1 demolition of Canada and a hard-fought 0-0 with Belgium which saw the low countries side eliminated. It was then a win on penalties over Japan in the last sixteen and then again in knocking out Brazil in the Quarter Finals.
Argentina’s antics at the whistle against the Dutch has set me against the South Americans and I’ve no wish for the romantic vision of Messi winning the competition as his international swansong. However, as much as I’d like to see Croatia go through to a second successive final, I fear that Messi will inspire his side to make it through leaving the other LM with the joys of a third/fourth place game.