Argentina 3 – 0 Croatia
(Semi-final, Lusail Iconic Stadium, 13/12/2022)
Argentina (2014) and Croatia (2018) come into this match as the losing finalists in the last two World Cups.
The Argentinians, disappointingly, lost (1-2) their first match against Saudi Arabia but won their remining group stage games plus their Round of 16 fixture against Australia. After letting a 2-0 lead slip, penalties were required for them to beat the Netherlands in their Quarter-final.
The Croatians had two goalless draws, against Morocco and Belgium, either side of a 4-1 win over Canada in their group stage games. That was their only win so far as their Round of 16 (against Japan) and Quarter-final (against Brazil) games both went to penalties. Croatia knocking out Brazil, most people’s favourites to win the tournament, came as something of a shock.
Scaloni, the Argentine manager, reverts to his favoured defensive formation with four at the back (4-4-2). Lisandro Martinez drops out and Parades comes back into midfield winning his fiftieth cap (De Paul will also get his fiftieth cap for this game). Acuna is suspended, so Tagliafico starts the game in his place.
The Croatians (4-3-3) remain unchanged with Pasalic, on Chelsea’s books for six years without making a single appearance, starting again. Their midfield trio of Brozovic, Kovacic and Modric start the game with a total of 331 caps between them with Modric alone having almost half (160) of them. Gvardiol has probably been the competition’s best centre back. Livakovic was the hero of the penalty shoot-outs against Japan and Brazil – Bayern have since shown some interest in him.
13 minutes. The Croatians attempt to move down their right touchline. Otamendi intercepts a pass and touches it inside to Fernandez. He passes it first time down the line to Alvarez. Faced by Lovren, and before Pasalic can get back to him, Alvarez plays the ball inside to Mac Allister who controls the ball and pushes it forward into the area. Messi’s tries to run onto the ball but appears to be tripped by Gvardiol. The coming together is clearly outside the area. Messi remonstrates with the referee, but he does not give a free kick, deeming the contact to have been non-intentional.
15 minutes. From a few yards inside his own half, Lovren plays the ball forward down the right. Juranovic beats Tagliafico to the ball, flicking it on towards Modric. Otamendi stretches getting a foot to the ball which falls back to Juranovic. He touches it outside to Modric who runs forward trying to go between Otamendi and Fernandez. Modric tries to pass forward, but Otamendi gets a foot to the ball. The ball bounces loose off Fernandez allowing Modric to turn and recover it. He plays it back out to Juranovic. He crosses but the ball hits Tagliafico going out for a corner. Modric takes the corner, rolling it along the goal line towards Kovacic who is running away from De Paul. Kovacic returns the ball to Modric who plays it outside to the overlapping Juranovic. He crosses deep towards the far post where Lovren gets above Otamendi and Romero who collide. Lovren’s header is tame, going high and wide.
18 minutes. Messi is feeling the back of his thigh. Maybe he has a problem with his hamstring. If so, that would be a highly significant development.
25 minutes. From a central position about 20 yards inside the Croatian half, Parades plays the ball forward, between Modric and Brozovic, finding Mac Allister.. He touches the ball left to Fernandez who runs inside past Lovren before unleashing a powerful shot from around 25 yards. Livakovic dives low to his left pushing the ball out towards the edge of the penalty area where Peresic, running back, can clear upfield to the halfway line.
31 minutes. Lovren about 20 yards out to the right plays the ball forward to Modric. He escapes a challenge and runs forward into the Argentinian half chased by Fernandez. Modric surges forward into the Argentinian half playing the ball forward inside to Kramaric. He squares it inside to Pasalic who immediately pushes it further inside to Kovacic. His diagonal ball forward finds Peresic, in a lot of room, to the left of the Argentinian penalty area about 15 yards out. Running into the area, Peresic cuts inside Molina and chips the ball goalward before De Paul can make a challenge. An ambitious attempt to go for goal, with the ball going a little weakly over the bar and dropping harmlessly behind the goal. Peresic claims a corner, believing that the boat was deflected by a defender. A goal kick is given.
32 minutes. 1-0 to Argentina. To the left of his penalty area, Otamendi runs the ball out of defence and plays it forward towards Mac Allister. The ball deflects of Modric to reach Fernandez instead. From the halfway line, he chips the ball forward towards Alvarez running between Gvardiol and Lovren With the flag staying down, Alvarez catches up with a ball inside the area. As Livakovic rushes out, Alvarez gets to the ball first lifting it over the goalkeeper’s left shoulder. Alvarez and Livakovic collide, both players going to ground. Lovren gets back to prevent the ball rolling into the net, turning it behind wide of the post. The referee gives a penalty without hesitation. Livakovic is shown a yellow card for a late challenge preventing Alvarez running on to tap the ball into the net. It would have been a red card if the referee thought that Livakovic didn’t attempt to play the ball. Messi steps up to take the penalty. Messi’s penalty record for Argentina is not that great, having missed more than 1in 4 of the penalties he has taken for them. It is a confident penalty. A powerful, whipped left foot strike into the top right-hand corner of the net high to Livakovic’s left. Argentina had been disappointing, even poor, up to this point. Without playing well, a lapse of concentration by the Croatians has gifted the lead to Argentina. Poor defending by them. With 11 goals to his name, Messi passes Gabriel Batistuta as Argentina’s leading World Cup goal scorer.
38 minutes. 2-0 to Argentina. Lovren plays the ball out to the right for Juranovic. His cross hits Mac Allister going out for a corner. Instead of crossing into the area, Modric plays they ball back to Brozovic. Alvarez, back defending, sprints out of the area to block Brozovic’s attempted cross, the ball rebounding across the edge of the area to the far side of the D where Otamendi clears into the middle of the half. Messi at full stretch gets his left foot to the ball preventing it going back to Brozovic. Still a little way into his own half Alvarez collects the ball just inside the centre circle. He makes a strong, direct run forward with only Juranovic between him and the goal. Sosa is level with him but some yards to his right. At the same time Molina makes a great run from defence. Running between the retreating Juranovic and Sosa, he crosses Alvarez’s path to goal taking the defenders with him. With Brozovic chasing back, Alvarez moves left away from the Croatian. Juranovic and Sosa leave Molina and turn to deal with Alvarez. The ball runs away from Alvarez slightly, but hits Juranovic’s left heel putting it back into his path. Before Alvarez can control the ball again, Sosa tries to clear but the ball bounces up off his shin into Alvarez’s midriff. As the ball drops Alvarez deftly volleys the ball home past the advancing Livakovic. A great, direct run and a composed finish. More poor defending by the Croatians.
41 minutes. Running the ball out of defence, Romero passes forward to Messi who, challenged by Kovacic, controls and puts the ball straight back to Romero. First-time, Romero pushes the ball forward past Kovacic back for Messi to run on to. Surging forward through the middle, Messi runs between Brozovic and Sosa with Kovacic chasing after him. As Brozovic challenges, Messi sweeps the ball wide out to the left. Fernandez takes the ball on towards the edge of the penalty area where, faced by Pasalic and Juranovic , he stops, turns and plays the ball back inside to Mac Allister. He controls and knocks the ball across to the right for De Paul. After one touch he shoots from just over 20 yards. The shot is on target but hits the Gvardiol’s arm, going out for a corner. De Paul claims handball. Gvardiol’s arm is behind his back and close to his body, so a penalty isn’t given. The corner goes over Brozovic and although the area is quite crowded, Mac Allister runs away from Lovren and Sosa into enough space to get free header. Mac Allister’s header is goal bound but is saved by Livakovic. A great reaction save, going low and pushing the ball to his left. The ball runs along the face of the goal going out for a corner off Juranovic, who might easily have put the ball into his own net. Argentina are now in complete control and the Croatians are in some disarray.
45 minutes. Inside the centre circle just into the Argentinian half, Kovacic receives the ball and plays it out wide to the left for Sosa who is in acres of space. Sosa plays the ball back inside to Kovacic who pushes it towards the centre of the D. Kramaric touches it first time to Peresic who touches it first-time back to Kramaric. He pushes it right to Modric who shoots from about 25 yards. The ball hits a defender and bounces back out to Modric. Modric improvises to volley it out to the right for Juranovic. He crosses towards the near post. Pasalic can’t quite get to the ball which looks as though it might go in at the near post. This forces a save from Martinez who tries to put the ball around the post and out for a corner. Pasalic gets to the ball before it crosses the line but can only find the side netting. Pasalic was in an offside position when Juranovic crossed the ball, so if he had scored the goal would have been disallowed.
45+5 minutes. Messi receives the ball in the centre of the Croatian half. After controlling it, he puts the ball between Brozovic’s legs and runs towards the right-hand corner of the penalty area chased by Gvardiol. Messi turns back but only into Kovacic. The ball breaks free and runs forward. Messi it’s quickest to the ball taking it by the right-hand corner of the penalty area. Gvardiol’s challenge forces Messi to stumble and run towards the touchline where he turns one way and then the other trying to avoid Brozovic and the recovering Kovacic. Messi is fouled by Brozovic. There is no time for the free kick to be taken. That is the last action of the first half.
After a very cagey opening phase, the Croatians settled into the game with Modric pulling the strings. Enjoying most of the possession and controlling the tempo, their play up to the final third was promising with slick passing and good movement. However, once inside the final third, their play was very disappointing. The Croatians, particularly Kramaric, seemed reluctant to shoot, always looking for an extra pass. Their first lapse of concentration led to Argentina taking the lead. That goal completely changed the complexion of the game. Argentina’s second effectively killed the Croatians off. The Argentinians were second best for around half an hour or so but had suddenly come to life. Scoring two quick goals in the final phases of the first half allowed them to take control of the game. In that short period, Messi’s influence on the game had increased dramatically. The Argentinians were now very confident. Argentina has never lost a World Cup Semi-final. The Argentines have only conceded seven goals in their last 10 matches and haven’t conceded more than two goals in their last 48 games. The Croatians are facing a mammoth task in the second half.
Half time saw two substitutions for Croatia, with Vlasic and Orsic replacing Pasalic and Sosa respectively. Before the second half kicked off Messi was again seen to be feeling his hamstring.
57 Minutes. A sequence of 8 Argentinian passes in midfield ends with Messi receiving the ball in a central position midway inside the Croatian half. Controlling the ball in front of Gvardiol, Messi turns and runs towards the penalty area holding off the Croatian defender. As he reaches the 18-yard line he stops and turns, flicking the ball inside past Gvardiol to Fernandez just to the left of the D. With Modric running in to challenge, Fernandez threads the ball between Gvardiol and Juranovic to find Messi running towards goal. Messi touches the ball forward and puts in a left foot shot from the corner of the 6-yard box. Livakovic saves low down in front of his right-hand post. Gvardiol, recovering well, does just enough to put Messi off balance as he takes the shot, otherwise he may well have beaten the keeper. Good play all round from Argentina; good running, great strength and skill from Messi.
61 minutes. About 5 yards into the Argentinian half, Modric receives the ball, turns away from Messi and plays a pass to Peresic out on the left touchline. Modric takes the return pass and runs between Parades and Molina. As Parades lunges in to make a tackle, Modric slips the ball square inside to Petkovic (on for Brozovic) who is fouled by Fernandez. The referee gives a free kick for the challenge on Modric. The ball is floated in towards the 6-yard box. Making a late run between Romero and Otamendi, Lovren gets his head to the ball. The contact is not a good one and the ball bounces up in front of Martinez who is able to bat the ball away before Lovren can get his head to it again. Vlasic and Fernandez compete for the loose ball which runs towards goal. Tagliafico is there to thump the ball clear. Does that count as Croatia’s first attempt on target?
68 minutes. 3-0 to Argentina. A Croatian attack is broken up, resulting in a throw-in for Argentina on the right halfway inside their half. Molina takes the throw, going long down the line. The ball goes over Kovacic and Messi. The ball finds Alvarez, just in front of Gvardiol, hits him and falls to Messi. Messi pushes the ball past Gvardiol trying to outpace him. Just as Gvardiol is about to get back to him, Messi stops and starts gaining half a yard on the defender. Messi body swerves backwards and then forwards to run into the area clear of Gvardiol. Lovren, Juranovic and Vlasic are all in the area, but none of them are picking up Alvarez. Tagliafico is also free to the left of the penalty spot. As Messi gets to the goal line he cuts the ball back, behind Lovren, to Alvarez who sweeps the ball into the bottom left corner of the net. Vlasic’s desperate lunge trying to get to the ball is simply too late. A fantastic run and assist by Messi. Surely the game is done and dusted now.
71 minutes. Kovacic picks the ball up by the centre spot. Running forward past Alvarez, he pushes the ball forward to Petkovic. Petkovic has his back to goal and Otamendi goes through the back of the Croatian to win the ball. The referee gives a free kick to Croatia and a yellow card to Otamendi. There is no real Argentinian wall, just a four defenders reasonably close to each other, so from about 35 yards out Peresic takes the kick and shoots for goal. The ball goes between two of the defenders but lacks any real power and direction. Martinez diving to his left makes a routine save. Croatia’s first proper attempt on target.
76 minutes. A few yards into the Argentinian half and to the right of the centre circle, Modric plays a ball out to the left for Peresic. With Fernandez closing in on him, Peresic controls and hits a long drive from over 30 yards. Peresic now seems to be shooting at every available opportunity but this time the ball flies high over the bar. Expecting to score from there is somewhat unrealistic.
78 minutes. Just outside his penalty area, Romero attempts to make a long pass wide out to the right. The ball is intercepted by Peresic. He takes the ball along the line and, as Molina approaches, turns back to play the ball between two defenders and find Orsic just outside the area. Orsic turns towards Romero and checks back. Romero overruns slightly to give Orsic room to try and curl the ball in at the far top corner of the goal. The shot is way off target.
80 minutes. In the first 30 minutes Modric had been running the midfield. Since Argentina took the lead, Modric has been unable to influence the game in the same way and the close attention of Mac Allister, in particular, limited his contributions. Modric leaves the field to be replaced by Majer. Will this be his last World Cup appearance? He leaves the field looking rather dejected.
83 minutes. In the Centre of the Croatian half, Palacios (on for De Paul) is fouled by Livaja (on for Kramaric). Palacios takes the free kick quickly, pushing the ball through to Dybala (on for Alvarez) on the edge of the D just left of centre. Dybala, marked by Gvardiol, attempts to back-heel the ball inside with his left foot. The ball hits his right leg without going loose, enabling Dybala to lift the ball over Peresic into the path of Mac Allister. Running into the area, Mac Allister hits a first-time right foot volley wide of the right-hand post. A good opportunity but a disappointing finish.
85 minutes. A cross towards the Argentinian 6-yard box hit from the Croatian left comes off the head of Romero. Running back towards his goal, the defender is aware that Livaja is running in behind trying to get between him and Lisandro Martinez (on for Paredes). The ball flies across the 6-yard box to the far post where Tagliafico, running back towards goal, stoops to head the ball out for a corner. At the near side of the 6-yard box, Majer’s kick is headed on by Peresic. Peresic’s fick evades everybody dropping invitingly at the far post. Lovren, running in, strains to get to the ball with his right foot but doesn’t quite get there. The ball runs out of play for a goal kick.
89 minutes. On the left just outside the area, Gvardiol plays the ball to Orsic who knocks it first time inside to Majer. His smart flick finds Kovacic. Kovacic takes the ball on, running between Fernandez and Lisandro Martinez before pushing it forward to Petkovic. Nimble footwork allows Petkovic to go past Correa (on for Mac Allister) sliding in trying to intercept the ball. Petkovic pushes the ball on a few yards back to Kovacic. After one touch, Kovacic feeds the ball inside to Majer. Running on to the ball Majer’s first touch is not perfect and the ball bobbles up. When the ball comes down, Majer shoots left-footed from just outside the area. The ball takes a slight deflection off Otamendi, that taking the sting out of the shot. Martinez dives to his left, smothering the ball to make another routine save
90+5 minutes. An Argentine attack breaks down and Gvardiol, to the left of the penalty area, passes forward down the left. The ball is touched inside to Majer. He runs forward into the Argentinian half, laying the ball out to the right for Vlasic. He pushes the ball forward back inside to Majer who feeds Petkovic wide on the left. Petkovic runs toward the area, cutting back to avoid Palacios. Petkovic plays the ball back towards the D finding Orsic. He turns to avoid Dybala sending the ball back to Lovren. Lovren runs onto the ball and shoots from just under 30 yards out. Without troubling Martinez, the shot clears the bar by a couple of feet or so. That is the last kick of the game. The Final whistle blows.
In the second half the Croatian substitutions reflected a greater attacking intent and the team adopted a more direct approach to try and get back into the game. That approach didn’t really work and, despite having more than 60% of the possession, they could only muster 2 shots on target in the entire match. Overall, the Argentinians’ performance had been excellent. They ran out convincing winners and will deservedly move on to their sixth Word Cup Final appearance. After scoring the penalty, as the second half wore on, Messi’s performance grew in stature and confidence with every passing minute. Orchestrating his team, Messi put in a true match-winning performance. Argentina against France, with Messi up against Mbappe, is now the desired final. Messi has 5 goals and 3 assists in 5 games; Mbappe has 5 goals and 2 assists in 4 games.
Posted by the CSG’s World Cup Willie