Croatia will attempt to knock out another South American heavyweight on Tuesday as they take on Argentina at the Lusail Stadium for a place in the World Cup final.
Led by Luka Modric, Croatia took down Brazil on penalties to reach the final four, and a victory could lead to a rematch of the 2018 World Cup final in Russia.
Runners-up to France on that occasion, Modric & Co. will come up against an Argentina side that emerged victorious in a heated match with the Netherlands that saw a total of 18 yellow cards awarded, a new World Cup record.
While Argentina's discipline may be a little unchecked off the back of their 4-3 penalty shootout win, their dominance at this juncture of the tournament is formidable. They never tasted defeat in a semifinal in four previous clashes.
Argentina Key Player: Lionel Messi
No surprises here — Messi has been pivotal to Argentina’s World Cup hopes. Provider for Nahuel Molina’s opening goal against the Dutch, his sublime pass taking his assist tally for the tournament to five, Messi then scored from the spot twice, once in normal time and once in the shootout.
His presence in attack has posed a constant threat to opposing defenses. He ranks first among players at his position in passing and dribbling grades at 82.3 and 87.9, respectively.
Croatia Key Player: Joško Gvardiol
Rumors of the defender’s future have him linked with some of Europe’s biggest clubs, so Gvardiol has a shot at further bolstering his reputation as an ever-present fixture of coach Zlatko Dalić’s plans.
The RB Leipzig man, still only 20, has featured in every minute of Croatia’s tournament and has displayed dominance in 50/50 battles with a 92% win rate on 13 duels, the highest among all central defenders.
Matchup to watch: Borna Sosa and Ivan Perišić vs. Nahuel Molina
No team has attempted more crosses in Qatar than Croatia, whose peppering of the opposition box appears to be a key feature of their style.
Sosa and Perišić have been the main source, as they have combined for a total of 39 crosses down the left flank, though success has been mixed, with only six being completed.
Still, that hasn’t deterred coach Dalić — Croatia’s 106 crosses from open play vastly outnumber the next-highest of 87, shared by Portugal and France.
That will ask questions of Molina, who has received the most positioning downgrades of Argentina’s defenders in the tournament (4), while his 66.2 challenge grade ranks 48 out of 103 among all full-backs.