Argentina take on Croatia this evening, a match that has been characterised as the meeting of two players who are heading for Roger Milla’s Last Chance Saloon. The battle of the legendary LMs – Lionel Messi versus Luka Modrić. It is understandable that these two are the headline act although there is so much more to look forward to.
In tonight’s match, Messi will equal Lothar Matthäus’ record number of World Cup appearances with twenty-five over five tournaments since 2006. If he adds to his tally of four goals in 2022, he will become Argentina’s leading scorer overtaking Gabriel Batistuta as they both currently have ten. Messi will also notch up another record outright as he captains his side for 18th time, overtaking Mexico’s Rafael Marquez.
Modrić will be making his 18th World Cup appearance in his fourth tournament, two ahead of current teammates Dejan Lovren and Ivan Perišić, as the leading Croatian. Modrić can also boast of an accolade that Messi has yet to attain – in 2018 he won the Golden Ball as the best player in the tournament. Modrić has just two goals to his name, both in 2018, one of which came in their 3-0 victory over Argentina in the Group stages.
The Argentinians can be considered the last four kings with a 100% record in their four semi-finals – 1930 beat USA 6-1, 1986 beat Belgium 2-0, in 1990 and 2014 they beat Italy and Netherlands respectively on penalties. Also in 1978 they beat Peru 6-0 in the second group stage to pip Brazil on goal difference. They are the only country to appear in more than two semis and win them all. They are aiming to be only the second side to lose their opening match but go on to win the World Cup after Spain did so in 2010.
Croatia are in their third semi-final, which is some achievement considering they are such a new nation, a mere 31 years-old. Like Portugal in 1966 they reached the semis on their World Cup debut in 1998, losing 2-1 to the French. In 2018 they beat England 2-1 before losing to the French again, this time in the final. Croatia finished second in their group behind other semi-finalists Morocco, and as the only one of the last four who did not top their group, are aiming to be the first country for 40 years to become World Cup champions having not been group winners, since Italy did so in 1982.
Both teams came through their 1/4 finals on penalties. Five of Croatia’s last six World Cup knock-out matches have gone to extra time, and they have won all four of their penalty shoot-outs, two in 2018 and two in 2022. Argentina’s victory over the Dutch was the second time they have beaten them on penalties, having done so in 2014 semi-final. Overall they have won five of their six shoot-outs, their only loss was against Germany in 2006 quarter-finals.
Have a listen to the World Cup Nuggets Group round-up podcast with special guest Kate Mason right here and check out how predictions can go awry – https://bit.ly/3us3PT7
You can still pick up a copy of the World Cup Nuggets book directly from the publishers, Halcyon https://bit.ly/3eXfV2y or via Amazon https://amzn.to/3TKD1J0 – the choice is yours and don’t forget Christmas is coming…