It will be Modric vs Messi even if they do not want it to be
When the last two World Cup Golden ball winners square off in the World Cup semifinal in what is expected to be their last attempt to win it, it becomes very difficult to look beyond them even though they are part of collective units.
Both Lionel Messi (who won in 2014) and Luka Modric (who won in 2018) could make history in Qatar if either wins another Golden Ball since no player has ever won more than one player of the tournament award at the World Cup.
Both Messi and Modric have had stellar World Cup campaigns so far and have propelled their teams into the critical stages of the World Cup, meaning that there is a realistic chance that one of them can get the golden ball. But first, one will need to get past the other.
Argentina vs Croatia Head-to-Head
Croatia will have fond memories of playing Argentina in the 2018 World Cup, where they flattened an uninspiring Albiceleste team 3-0 in the second group stage with goals from Ante Rebic, Ivan Rakitic, and Modric, who is the only surviving member of the goalscorers in the 2022 squad.
Overall, Argentina and Croatia have met on four occasions, with two wins each. Argentina also beat Croatia in the 1998 World Cup to finish top of their shared group, but that loss will not have hurt Croatia too much since they still qualified from the group and reached the semifinals that year as well.
Players to watch out for
The obvious answer seems to be Messi and Modric, but both teams have already shown that there are other people who can stand up to be counted when it matters most, like in the penalty shootout.
And if Croatia’s precedent is anything to go by, it could be down to the men between the sticks to decide this semifinal.
It is often said that if Argentina had a different goalkeeper than Emi Martinez, much of their recent success would not have happened. Looking at his heroics over the last two tournaments, it is hard to argue with that.
He saved two Dutch penalties to send Argentina into the semifinals, and despite his foul-mouthed tirades after the fact, he is still seen as a hero of the national team. If he can keep up his performances, most people will not mind how much he lays into the opposition.
Croatia have gone to extra time in seven of their last eight knockout ties and have gone to penalties on five of these occasions, winning four times. This means they have built a culture of superb penalty stoppers with Dominik Livakovic being the latest in that line of succession.
The Dinamo Zagreb goalkeeper has saved four penalties so far in the two shootouts that Croatia have been involved in, which puts him in joint first place for the most penalties saved in World Cup history.
He also joined Danijel Subasic and Sergio Goycochea as the only goalkeepers in World Cup history to have won two penalty shootouts in the same edition as well as the only goalkeepers to have made saves in different shootouts at the same edition of the World Cup.
If the semifinal goes to penalties, which is likely, then Livakovic could make further history in Qatar.
Argentina vs Croatia injuries and suspensions
Argentina’s feisty encounter with the Netherlands in the quarterfinals cost them two players, as Marcos Acuna and Gonzalo Montiel are suspended for the semifinals after being one of 17 people booked in the caustic quarterfinal affair.
They have no other player absentees, and neither do Croatia, who have a clean bill of health and no players suspended, so they can call upon any of their 26 players against Argentina.