The Hard Tackle looks at three key players to watch out for in the FIFA World Cup 2022 semi-final between Argentina and Croatia.
Just two matches remain for around two dozen players to achieve greatness. The Jules Rimet trophy is so close within reach that all the semi-finalists can almost touch it. But one cannot count their chickens before they hatch. So Argentina and Croatia will be desperate to overcome the Himalayan task when the two teams face off at the Lusail Stadium on Tuesday.
Argentina and Croatia have been polar opposites thus far at the FIFA World Cup 2022. While Lionel Scaloni has made La Albiceleste one of the most eye-catching teams in Qatar, Zlatko Dalic continues to forge the Vatreni into a formidable team that can stop the best of opponents.
Argentina might finally be ready to take Lionel Messi to the promised land, with most players stepping up in the last three weeks. On the other hand, Dalic and Croatia have shown that reaching the 2018 final was not a fluke. And they remain a force to be reckoned with in Qatar, too.
But both teams have one thing in common, as they went to penalties to clinch a place in the semi-finals. While Argentina overcame the resilient Netherlands, Croatia beat a rampant Brazil. And ahead of the mouthwatering clash at the Lusail Stadium, The Hard Tackle lists three key players for the game.
Who else but the little magician to kick things off in this list? After all, the veteran attacker has been on a tear in the last couple of weeks in Qatar. And Lionel Messi is undoubtedly leaving nothing in his tank to realise his boyhood dream.
The 35-year-old has been a slow burn in Qatar as he was not entirely in his element in the group stage. While Messi scored twice in three games, he blew hot and cold, with others, like Enzo Fernandez, igniting the spark within the rest of the squad. But he has been nothing short of fiery in the knockout stages.
Messi showed why he is one of the greatest players of all time with a silky goal against Australia in the Round of 16. And in the quarter-final against the Netherlands, the former Barcelona captain ran the show for his team. And he is now up to four goals in the competition and battling Kylian Mbappe for the Golden Boot.
By the end of the quarter-final, Messi was an enraged animal and did not shy away from giving anyone and everyone related to the Dutch national side a piece of his mind. And with the fire within him burning bright, Messi will leave everything on the pitch to find a way past the dogged Croatian defence. Expect a bit of magic from the diminutive wizard on the day.
The midfield will be where half the battle will play out on Tuesday. And that will be the best chance for Croatia to keep Lionel Messi and Argentina quiet. But while Luka Modric will invariably be a pivotal figure for the Vatreni, Mateo Kovacic will be even more crucial to keep La Albiceleste at bay.
The 28-year-old has been relentless in his pursuit to keep the most dangerous opponents as far away from Dominik Livakovic as possible. The former Real Madrid midfielder is a pressing monster that adds another layer to Croatia’s midfield colossus. And his proactive work will help keep the ball away from Messi.
At the same time, Kovacic will be critical in moving Croatia forward during transitions, that too at a quick tempo. So Zlatko Dalic will need his well-rounded midfield metronome to be at his best to have a chance of dismantling Argentina. Expect the Chelsea midfielder to bring his A-Game, as he usually does in a big match.
From winning trophies at River Plate, to scoring on the biggest stage.
Julian Alvarez and Enzo Fernandez have come through together ❤️ pic.twitter.com/WauPx64NYC
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) December 1, 2022
The other side of the much-awaited midfield battle will have a player whose stock is rising by the day. This a midfielder who has captured the attention of European bigwigs like Liverpool, Manchester United, and Real Madrid, among others. We are talking about the highly sought-after Enzo Fernandez.
The 21-year-old had not even made his debut for Argentina before September. But Fernandez has taken no time to establish himself as an indispensable figure for Lionel Scaloni. And it is easy to see why high-profile clubs are clamouring for his signature despite his nascent years.
Enzo Fernandez has recently been in touch with Liverpool over a big-money move. And while Benfica only signed him this past summer, the Portuguese giants are surely licking their lips over the prospect of a hefty payday from his sale. As for the matters on the pitch, the player provided the spark that Argentina needed to become a fearsome force at the World Cup.
The former River Plate ace has held the midfield unit together for La Albiceleste. At the same time, Croatia will need to be wary of a world-class strike from range by Fernandez. And with such multi-faceted threats, it is no wonder that Enzo Fernandez might be nearly as crucial for Argentina as Lionel Messi.