The semi-finals of this extraordinary and unpredictable World Cup kick off on Tuesday evening (7pm; TV: Live on ITV) , as Argentina take on Croatia at Lusail Iconic Stadium. Can the Croats upset another of the big hitters? Or will Messi & Co. prove too strong for the Europeans?
After a disastrous start to the tournament, one that saw them lose to Saudi Arabia of all teams, the Argentines recovered and were seemingly building nicely. They topped their group with six points, and although they had to endure a few scary moments during the Round-of-16, they kept the Australians at arm’s length and were good value for their win.
The team led superbly by magic man Lionel Messi on the pitch seemed to be cruising towards victory in the quarters against an underperforming Netherlands team, but with less than 10 minutes to go, all hell broke loose. The Dutch scored with only their second attempt on the game, and the Argentines began to wobble. They no longer looked assured in possession, their defending was desperate and frantic, so much so that they continued to give away cheap fouls in dangerous areas, the last of which allowed their opponents to equalise in the 10th minute of stoppage time. Fortunately, they steadied themselves and were once again the better team in extra-time, which is what probably gave them the confidence to be decisive in the shootout.
It wasn’t simple for Scaloni’s men, even though it perhaps should’ve been, but they are now just one game away from a sixth World Cup final.
For the Croats, it was relatively simple stuff in the groups. They were typically sturdy and hard to beat, so much so that they went through the early stages undefeated, picking up a solid five points from their three group games. Against Japan in the Round-of-16, their offensive limitations were exposed, but they once again showed how difficult they can be to beat. If anyone can fight hard, take the sting out of the game, and stay in the fight, then it’s this Croatia team.
After the Brazilians made light work of dismantling South Korea in the Round-of-16, most people thought it was the end of the road for the men wearing the famous red and white chequered shirts. Again, they showed that never-say-die spirit, fighting back from a goal down in extra-time, before emerging victorious on penalties. If anyone thinks that Argentina has an easy game here, then they can think again.
What can we expect from this game?
Croatia got the 2018 World Cup final by being pragmatic, very good at keeping the ball and hard to break down, and they’ve adopted the same style to great effect in Qatar. There is absolutely no chance of Zlatko Dalić’s men changing their approach now. The Croats will be more than happy to sit in deep, they will be compact, and hard to break down.
What also makes this Croatia team difficult to face is the fact that they don’t just get men behind the ball before simply looking to clear their lines. They are very comfortable in possession, and although they rarely look to burst into action, they’re excellent at retaining the ball, which can really frustrate teams, especially those who want to play on the front foot and play quickly.
The Argentines are second favourites with the bookies to win the World Cup and will undoubtedly be the ones to make the running, and it will almost certainly be down to Messi to pick the lock. We know all too well how good he is at doing that, but should he be frustrated, which does happen from time to time, the South Americans are likely to find it hard to get at Croatia, who did an excellent job of not just hanging in the game against Brazil, but of stopping their opponents from creating clear-cut scoring opportunities.
Croats can continue to frustrate
After overcoming what was a huge setback by letting the Netherlands back into the game last time out, it may seem as if the stars are finally aligning for Argentina and Lionel Messi. Many believe that he will cement himself as the greatest player ever by winning football’s biggest prize, but this will be anything but easy for the men in blue and white.
At the prices, the Croatians, who have a once-in-a-generation talent of their own in the middle of the park, are worth supporting to still be in the game when the final whistle is blown.
Besides perhaps the Moroccans, who continue to surprise, Dalić’s men have been the best at keeping teams quiet in Qatar. They kept two clean sheets in the group, and in five games in the middle east have conceded only two goals in regular time. That is an impressive stat.
The team captained superbly by the ever-present Luka Modric are now unbeaten in 12 games too. Even before they got to this tournament, they were beating or avoiding defeat against the likes of Austria, Denmark, and France, who they beat and drew against in the UEFA Nations League earlier this year. Make no mistake about it, the Croats can get a result.
At times, Argentina have looked strong at this tournament, and we know if everything clicks that they have got lots to offer, especially going forward, but they didn’t exactly blow Australia away, while they struggled to see off the Dutch in the end. The way in which Scaloni’s team have been held off for large portions of their games suggests that this Croatia team could easily frustrate the current South American champions.
Ahead of what will be an intriguing clash, punters could do far worse than placing a bet on the team that is very difficult to dismantle getting a positive result in 90 minutes. So the conclusion of our Argentina vs Croatia betting tips for this World Cip semi-final preview is this section:
- Croatia +0.5 of a goal @ 21/20 on the Asian Handicap with Bet365.
Bradley Gibbs is an experienced football writer. He is an expert analyst on Premier League, and all global football leagues & tournaments, for Just Bookies. Bradley has been published by many respected outlets, including USA Betting and the Racing & Football Outlook. He has also written betting strategy guides.