The first World Cup Semi Final takes place Tuesday night as heavyweights Argentina face a dogged Croatia team.
Argentina are the favourites, but that hasn’t meant much in this tournament and it certainly doesn’t against Croatia.
The 2018 runners up must be a terrifying prospective opponent. Like principal Skinner pursuing a truant Bart Simpson, they don’t go away.
They’ve only won one game in the entire tournament, against an out-of-their-depth Canada. Yet they find themselves in their second consecutive World Cup Semi Final.
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The rest of their results have been draws, which outlines how difficult they are to beat. As well as that, it outlines how psychologically difficult they are to play against. There’s no pretence with Croatia. No philosophy or notions of total football to adhere to. No qualms with grinding it out.
Croatia will implement whatever game plan will best stop their opponents. This team has absolutely no problem with playing extra time. They will take it to penalties and they will beat you on penalties. They do not care.
Up for grabs is a final against the team who beat them in the previous final, France, or the only other team people will want to beat them in Morocco. It’s either a revenge mission or a relatively favourable tie. They must get past Argentina first, although they won’t be afraid of that.
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Croatia beat Brazil, arguably a more complete team than Argentina in the previous round. The only danger for Croatia is going behind by a goal or two, because you don’t fancy them to chase a game. Argentina do have a cheat code in Lionel Messi, but they can’t rely on his magic alone.
They’ll also have to watch out for Luka Modric, another all-time great playing in his last world cup. Bar a Messi masterclass, expect this to be a tight game.