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World Cup semi-final preview: Argentina vs Croatia

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Argentina face Croatia in a World Cup semifinal that pits South American flair against the guile of Luka Modric and a remarkable fighting spirit.

At Lusail Stadium, Lionel Messi, now 35, will attempt to guide Argentina into the final for the second time in eight years against the beaten finalists in 2018.

Messi, who suffered defeat to Germany in the 2014 final, is desperate to crown an extraordinary career by finally winning the World Cup and emulating another Argentinian legend, the late Diego Maradona.

The Paris Saint-Germain forward was a pivotal figure in Friday’s stormy quarterfinal win over the Netherlands, when a record 18 yellow cards were shown and players from both sides were involved in a melee as the referee fought to regain control.

The match ended with Argentina players appearing to taunt their distraught Dutch opponents before sprinting away to celebrate after a penalty shootout win.

Even the normally mild-mannered Messi was caught up in the bad blood, shouting abuse at Dutch players while he was being interviewed after the game.

A question mark hangs over veteran Angel Di Maria and his fitness, with the 34-year-old having largely been used as a substitute in the tournament despite recovering from injury.

Messi, at 35, playing likely his last World Cup, is desperate to land the one major title missing from his extensive collection but he is also carrying the weight of the nation on his shoulders.

Croatia surprising again

Croatia, who beat Japan and pre-tournament favourites Brazil in penalty shootouts to reach the last four, have not won a knockout game in normal time at a major tournament since they came third at the 1998 World Cup.

Despite doing it the hard way, the country of 3.9 million people surprised the football world by reaching the final four years ago, where France crushed their dreams with a 4-2 win.

Croatia, with Real Madrid playmaker Modric still the leader on the pitch at the age of 37, have again defied the odds to stand on the brink of a second successive final.

This Croatian team is like a sponge. Led by Luka Modrić, they absorb tremendous pressure and just when you think they will implode, they wrangle themselves for one final squeeze.

With no players suspended and no injury concerns following the return of defender Borna Sosa, Zlatko Dalic’s team is brimming with confidence and ready for more.

Super-sub Bruno Petkovic, who scored the equaliser against Brazil, could earn back his starting spot over Andrej Kramaric while Mario Pasalic is expected to keep his in attack.

Tuesday night will be a clash between two midfields that don’t hesitate from a scrap. Goals may be at a premium, but with Messi and Modric on the pitch, the genius quotient of the game will be high.

Argentina

Lost Argentina 2-1 vs Saudi Arabia

Beat Mexico 2-0

Beat Poland 2-0

Beat Australia 2-1

Beat Netherlands 3-2 on penalties

Croatia

Drew 0-0 with Morocco

Beat Canada 4-1

Drew 0-0 with Belgium

Beat Japan 3-1 on penalties

Beat Brazil 4-2 on penalties

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