The Croatians stunned the tournament favorites in the quarter-finals with a vintage performance, having dropped a goal in extra time but digging deep to rally and force a penalty shoot-out which they ended up winning.
While the five-time world champions’ elimination was largely unexpected given Brazil’s form, it was nonetheless a classic Croatian result.
With a never-to-die-for attitude, even when the odds were heavily stacked against them, disciplined Croatia are now deservedly in their second consecutive World Cup semi-final, and underestimating them would be at Argentina’s peril.
Playmaker Luka Modric was their driving force at the age of 37, a motivation for all other team members.
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With no players suspended and no injury concerns following the return of defender Borna Sosa, Zlatko Dalic’s side are full of confidence and ready to do more.
Substitute Bruno Petkovic, who scored the equalizer against Brazil, could regain the starting spot from Andrej Kramaric while Mario Pasalic should keep him in attack.
The Argentines, looking for their first world title since Diego Maradona’s side in 1986, have their work cut out for them.
Defenders Marcos Acuna and Gonzalo Montiel were suspended for bookings, limiting manager Lionel Scaloni’s possibilities in defence.
Nicolas Tagliafico could replace the first, but it will be a less offensive formation, with full-back Acuna who has given the team more vivacity.
A question mark also hangs over veteran Angel Di Maria and his fitness, with the 34-year-old being used extensively as a substitute in the tournament despite recovering from injury.
Messi, at 35, playing in arguably his last World Cup, is desperate to get the one major title missing from his vast collection, but he’s also carrying the weight of the nation on his shoulders.
(Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
The matchup with Maradona for the title of the greatest Argentine player of all time cannot be complete without a world title, which the late Maradona almost single-handedly won 36 years ago.
The Netherlands nearly missed out on the semi-finals after the Dutch came from 2-0 down to score twice late in the match and forced extra time and penalties in a hot-tempered encounter.
A penalty replay, this time against mentally tough Croatia, must be a terrifying prospect for Scaloni’s men even though goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez was up to par against the Netherlands, saving two spot-kicks.
Croatia overcame two penalties and extra time to reach the 2018 final before losing to France and went on penalties in both of their knockout stage matches in Qatar to boast a perfect 4-0 record. Based on that statistic, another one against Argentina would most likely take them to the final.