Helmed by two Ballon D’Or winners hoping to write a memorable swansong with their national teams, Croatia and Argentina have much in common.
Both have been within touching distance of World Cup glory. Both fallen agonisingly short. Both have asked for the services of their custodians to bail them out of trouble. Argentina did it against the Netherlands, Croatia against Japan and Brazil.
On Tuesday, one of these teams will give itself a second shot at being World Champions.
With similar style of plays, the semifinal will provide interesting battles in all three thirds of the football pitch. And it will start with their star players.
Lionel Messi vs Luka Modric
Teams often come up with one tactic to strangle the Argentina attack - Target Messi. The talisman is the life of the South American team’s attack and orchestrates play.
While Croatia has made it clear that Messi will not be man marked, it will be foolish to think that Luka Modric, the team’s most trusted and experienced player, will let Messi out of his sight.
Since Messi likes to sit back in pockets of space between lines, he becomes a natural target for Modric to mark. The two have had multiple battles in the past in La Liga. On numerous occasions, Modric has tasked with breaking Messi’s dribbles with tackles.
But stopping Messi is not going to be a one man task. Being a player who likes to switch play from the centre of the field to the flanks, the Croatia full backs will have to be on their toes and aware of runs in behind by Argentina’s full backs.
Julian Alvarez vs Josko Gvadriol
The young forward has been a revelation for Argentina. Not that his talent had any doubters, but Alvarez has seamlessly established himself as the first-choice striker for Argentina in this World Cup.
The 22-year-old became the first Argentina player to score in his first two World Cup starts since Hernan Crespo in 2006.
Alvarez likes to run. He makes constant runs in behind defence. With his pace, Alvarez has successfully caught defences napping. This ability even allows him to land in one on one situations with goalkeepers.
Croatia will look to counter this problem through Gvadriol. Wielding a mask the entire tournament, the Croatian defender has stood like a rock.
His on ground tackles are accurate, and his aerial abilities are second to none. The 20-year-old has attracted interest from top clubs in the Premier League after his performance at the World Cup. He will yet again be key to stop any threats from Argentina’s attack.
Dominik Livakovic vs Rodrigo De Paul
Croatia being in the semifinal can largely be credited to Livakovic’s exploits. The Croat custodian has been unbreachable in goal and prevented attack after attack from entering the net.
He was particularly impressive against Brazil when he made one one one saves against Neymar and Paqueta. Against Argentina, Livakovic will face a slightly different test.
Since Croatia likes to flood its penalty area with bodies, in order to cover space, Argentina might attempt shooting long-range efforts. La Albiceleste has players in De Paul and Alexis Mac Allister who have the ability to find the sweet spot.
Nicolas Tagliafico vs Andrej Kramaric
Nicolas Tagliafico has been demoted to the bench during the World Cup, with Marcos Acuna becoming the first-choice left back for Lionel Scaloni.
A suspension for Acuna, however, will see Tagliafico return to defence. The Ajax player has been limited only to minutes of bench after he was brought of against Saudi Arabia.
He will have big shoes to fill against Croatia and particularly Kramaric. The forward is effective in switching his positions from wide a wide forward to central and back wide.
Moreover, left back is a position that Messi uses to distribute play from the centre to the channels. Tagliafico will be required to make those darts forward and then track back efficiently.
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