At the death, it is only fitting that the 2022 World Cup semi-finals are even trickier and more nail-biting.
It was a throwback affair for both Argentina and Croatia, with the latter recording an emphatic 3-0 victory over the former at the group stage of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia. While Argentina successfully ensured a repeat of their 2014 victory over the Netherlands last Friday, their next mission was all-out revenge.
As it turned out, revenge remains a dish served cold.
Argentina saw more of the ball in the opening exchanges, but Croatia did not take long to grow into the game. In the sixth minute, Argentina had a free kick near the centre half after a foul on Tagliafico. By the tenth minute, Croatia had spent a decent stretch of time in the Argentine half and were in control of the game. Their control culminated in the first corner of the game in the fifteenth minute, which ultimately went out for a goal kick.
Croatia’s passes were quick, sharp, and incisive, with Argentina finding it difficult to recover possession or hold the same for long. However, Argentina fought back and forced a save off Croatia in the twenty-fourth minute. After Messi was disposed of in the twenty-sixth minute, Argentina conceded a freekick in a bid to impede a goalscoring opportunity. Luka Modrić’s effort was ineffectual, and Argentina embarked on an equally ineffectual counterattack. In the thirtieth minute, Ivan Perišić fired a shot over the bar.
In an interesting turn of events, Argentina was awarded a penalty after Julian Alvarez was brought down in the Croatian box by goalkeeper Dominik Livaković. Lionel Messi made no mistake from the spot, firing into the top right corner for his fifth goal of the tournament. Croatia did not take long to respond, winning a corner in the thirty-seventh minute. However, in a more interesting turn of events, Argentina doubled their lead in the thirty-ninth minute via a counterattacking move finished off by Julián Álvarez. But Argentina did not stop, with Alexis Mac Allister nearly putting a Lionel Messi corner past Livaković.
Argentina was in control, but Croatia was undeterred. A potentially pulsating second half was on the horizon.
Croatia made two changes coming into the second half. They won a free kick in the forty-sixth minute, which Modrić’s swung in for a comfortable Emiliano Martinez save. The Croatians made yet another change in the forty-ninth minute—an indication of Croatia’s manager Zlatko Dalić’s restless efforts to turn the game around.
A string of Argentine passes in the Croatian half resulted in Lionel Messi forcing a crucial block off Livaković in the fifty-seventh minute. However, Croatia continued their comeback efforts by winning a freekick in the sixtieth minute which nearly resulted in a goal.
By the sixty-ninth minute, Argentina put the game to bed with Julian Alvarez converting his second of the night – Messi recording his second assist of the game.
Croatia remained relentless. Perišić took a freekick in the seventy-second minute, but it sailed through the wall and into the palms of Emiliano Martinez. A long-awaited Argentine substitution was made in the seventy-fourth minute, with Pablo Dybala making his first appearance in the 2022 World Cup. Conversely, in the eightieth minute, Luka Modrić bowed out of what was potentially his final World Cup appearance for Croatia.
A few Croatian efforts blended into the five minutes of extra time, and they kept pushing. Dejan Lovren made a last-gasp shot in search of a consolation goal, but it was not to be.
Long story short, Argentina will play in the World Cup final against the winner of the tie between France and Morocco. However that game turns out, it may just see Lionel Messi cement his status as the greatest football player of all time.