Argentina broke into the semifinals of the 2022 World Cup in the most dramatic fashion of the World Cup so far.
In case you missed it, Argentina blew their two-goal lead after the Netherlands tied the score so deep into stoppage time, the final whistle was lurking around the corner. Neither team was able to score in both periods of extra time, and it was Lautaro Martínez who scored the match-winning penalty shot to seal Argentina’s victory.
Argentina saw the light of the semifinal, squandered it with a mistake late in the match, but managed to step into the light once again.
Croatia’s break into the semifinals was somewhat similar.
Against Brazil, considered by many to be the favorite to win the entire tournament, Croatia pulled off the unexpected. After Neymar gave Brazil the lead in extra time, Bruno Petkovic put in Croatia’s equalizer with three minutes left to play. The level playing field eventually sent the match to a penalty shootout.
Amazingly, Brazil missed three of their penalty shots, sending the Croatians to the semifinals of the tournament.
Now, we are down to the last two matches before the World Cup finals. Which one of these two nations will see another chance at the coveted trophy?
Still in the game
This isn’t the first time Argentina and Croatia are meeting in the World Cup, but it is their first matchup in the knockout stage. Their past two matches against one another have both been in the Group Stages, the latest of which was in 2014, where Croatia defeated the Argentine, 3-0.
The likelihood of the same dominating result coming into play is low, especially given their current record. But we wouldn’t put it past Croatia to give Argentina a run for their money.
Croatia is, as the New York Times put it, “the team that refuses to lose.” Remarkably, they have only won one match in the World Cup within 90 minutes so far—their group-stage match against Canada. The rest of their matches ended in draws, the latest two being won on penalties.
In addition, in Croatia’s last two draws against Japan and Brazil, the team scored to level the match after being one goal down.
Somehow, the Croatians do just enough to advance into the finals, no matter who their opponent is. If anyone counted them out as contenders before the tournament started, certainly no one is underestimating them now.
One crucial player that Croatia has on their side is their keeper, Dominik Kivakovic. With Croatia’s recent streak of draws and penalties, he has been crucial in seeing the team through to the next stage.
Messi and co.
As the World Cup draws down to its final stages, all eyes are on Lionel Messi. Now competing to stay alive in his last appearance in the top tournament, expectations are high that he will take Argentina all the way to the finals.
And though it isn’t fair to put expectations all on one player, Argentina is a better team with Messi on the pitch. Apart from his goals thus far into the competition, his pass to Nahuel Molina to score in their match against the Netherlands was crucial and was overshadowed by the dramatic penalty shootout finish.
However, if Argentina is going to make it all the way, it will be because of all their players. Unlike Croatia, the men in blue have won all their matches within the regulated 90 minutes except for two—their loss to Saudi Arabia and their quarterfinal against the Dutch.
This time around, though, Argentina is going to need to create a bigger cushion if they want a secure route to the finals.
Croatia has the tendency of coming back from the dead, no matter how many minutes or seconds remain in a match. And many believe they will pull off the same thing against Argentina to put the match into overtime.
However, given that Croatia has had to endure two matches going into extra time against Japan and Brazil, Argentina may have more steam in them.
Which team do you think will make it to the World Cup finals?
Banner image from FIFA World Cup on Twitter.