While many could have predicted the long-unbeaten Argentina side of 2022 reaching the last four in Qatar, Croatia are a different prospect. Despite being the finalists four years ago, Hrvatska have gone back the way in terms of results, playing style, and of course the age of key players. Despite the passing of time, though, the likes of Luka Modric and Ivan Perisic are still going strong.
Can the tiny Balkan nation, though, overcome an Argentina team that feels like it is playing against an act of destiny?
Argentina are going to feel the loss of two players – one more important than the other. The main miss is Marcos Acuna. The left-back is going to miss out with suspension, having picked up a yellow card in the brawl against the Netherlands. He will be a huge miss; his energy, power, and ability to fill in across midfield when needed makes him a very useful asset for this Argentina team.
The other miss will be Gonzalo Montiel. The full-back came on as a sub in the Netherlands game and was quickly booked, meaning that he will miss out. Argentina went for a 3-5-2 in the last game, but that was a tactical counter to the Dutch system. Expect them to return to their more traditional 4-3-3 for this one. Definitely the favourite going into this game, but the loss of Acuna could become a major detriment later.
Croatia will only be missing one player, Josip Stanisic, who has not even played a minute at the showpiece tournament. It is likely that goal scoring striker Bruno Petkovic will get a chance after his heroics against Brazil. However, it has to be noted that until his deflected winner Petkovic spent most of his time on the pitch losing the ball and genuinely being a nuisance to his team, not the opposition.
Zlatko Dalic is expected to stick with a Luka Modric-Marcelo Brozovic-Mateo Kovacic midfield. All three can control the ball, and as the Dutch made the Argentines suffer with possession football so can Croatia.
It is hard to call for sure, as this should be a tight and challenging game for both sides. Extra time was played by both, and both have found relative success in penalty shootouts. We think it might go all the wa again.
Score: 1-1 (Argentina win on penalties)