Argentina v Croatia
Just one last hurdle in Qatar stands in the way of Argentina and their second World Cup final in eight years. The bad news, though, is that the obstacle in their path to glory is a formidable one indeed.
After doing just enough to upset tournament favourites Brazil in the quarter-final Croatia now take on another South American giant in the shape of the Albiceleste, who have bounced back from a poor start in the World Cup to leave themselves on the verge of the final. There will certainly be no lack of confidence in the Croatia camp, having gone through their five games to date in Qatar without suffering defeat while also inflicting a devastating 3-0 defeat on Argentina when they met back in 2018.
Both sides are much different four years on, though. That drubbing and subsequent elimination at the hands of France in the last 16 prompted Argentina to rebuilt their ageing team, leading to the introduction of current stars like Nahuel Molina, Rodrigo De Paul and Lautaro Martinez alongside established stars Lionel Messi, Nicolas Otamendi and Angel Di Maria.
Croatia, meanwhile, are just as difficult to beat as they were when they reached the final in Russia, but with the likes of Mario Mandzukic and Ante Rebic now gone from the squad the Balkans side perhaps lack a cutting edge in front of goal. Still, as they showed against Brazil they have a knack for finding the net when they most need to and will make for tough opponents against an Argentina team on a high after their thrilling shootout defeat of Netherlands.
Argentina can perhaps count themselves lucky that any yellow cards accumulated in Tuesday’s last-four match will not carry over to a potential final. With 10 bookings to date the nation lies third from bottom in the disciplinary standings, testament to both their no-holds-barred approach on the pitch and the scale of bad feeling towards the end of the clash against Netherlands.
Marcos Acuna and Gonzalo Montiel are both unavailable to take on Croatia after picking up yellows in that game, but Cristian Romero is safe in the knowledge that if he goes into the referee’s book again it will not end his tournament. That must come as a relief: the Tottenham man is an uncompromising tackler and has shown on several occasions in Qatar that he has no hesitation whatsoever when it comes to diving in and sending the forward flying.
With Croatia looking for continuity from the Brazil game, that means Modric is likely to stay in a higher role up the pitch than in earlier games so as to ensure the side’s best playmaker can get the ball in positions to hurt Argentina.
With Argentina not carrying the same sheer volume of attacking talent as Brazil, Modric should be able to get more touches in dangerous areas and be able to get a shot off. Against Argentina in 2018, Modric took advantage of Argentina’s lack of organisation on the break to score a spectacular goal from outside the box and the same again would do nicely.
Croatia are happy to pass around the back and build slowly and Gvardiol has shown throughout the tournament he is the most comfortable of the central duo on the ball. Add to that the fact that, as a converted left back, he also naturally progresses the ball up the field, often making runs with the ball at feet to get up the field before passing the ball to maintain control and relieve pressure at the back.
With Croatia’s habit of games going long and staying tight, Gvardiol’s ball playing abilities have come to the fore with him averaging around 60 passes per 90. The challenges Argentina will pose will bring those talents to the fore even more.
While any defender opposing Messi is likely to have a busy night, Gvardiol’s abilities on the ball as well as off the ball may make him be Croatia’s most important player in this crucial match.
Written by an Andy verified content writer
18+ please gamble responsibly.
Haven’t got a Betfair account? You’re in luck…
Sign up to Betfair and get a full refund if your first bet loses. Grab an account through the offer below and place £20 on the 16/1 Argentina v Croatia Bet Builder. Here are the two possible outcomes:
* I recommend waiting for confirmed team line-ups before placing any bets *
* All odds displayed correct at the time of publishing *