World Cup semi-final: Argentina vs. Croatia preview, prediction and team news

Can Messi and Modric inspire their nations into the World Cup final?

Argentina’s Lisandro Martinez and Lionel Messi and Croatia’s Luka Modric and Mateo Kovacic
Argentina’s Lisandro Martinez and Lionel Messi and Croatia’s Luka Modric and Mateo Kovacic
(Image credit: Fifa/Getty Images)

Both Argentina and Croatia needed penalty shoot-out victories to reach the semi-finals of the Fifa World Cup – and this match at Lusail Stadium on Tuesday night has the potential to go the distance again.

Lionel Messi and Luka Modric, the captains and No.10s of Argentina and Croatia respectively, could well hold the key to unlocking their opponents’ defence. But should they breach the backline they will then face two of the tournament’s top goalkeepers. Argentina keeper Emiliano Martinez made two saves in the shoot-out win over the Netherlands. While Croatia stopper Dominik Livakovic made one penalty save against Brazil, adding to the three that he made against Japan in the round of 16 shoot-out.

Messi, who has scored four goals so far at Qatar 2022, will no doubt be Argentina’s main attacking threat. There’s also the added storyline of the 35-year-old aiming to win a first World Cup in what is his fifth and final tournament.

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Croatia, who are looking to reach their second successive World Cup final, will “need to guard” against the Argentina skipper, but they have “nothing to fear”, said head coach Zlatko Dalic. He told Fifa+ that his team won’t man-mark Messi “in a player-on-player style”, as they didn’t do that in their last meeting against Neymar and Brazil.

“We know how much he runs, how much he likes to play with the ball at his feet and the key to our defensive phase will be discipline,” Dalic added. “If we repeat the same thing as against Brazil, which is that we are close [to him], that we stand by the player, we have nothing to fear.”

The winners of this match will return to the Lusail Stadium for Sunday’s Fifa World Cup final where they will face France or Morocco.

Argentina players celebrate after their shoot-out win over the Netherlands

Argentina players celebrate their shoot-out win over the Netherlands
(Image credit: Evrim Aydin/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Match facts

  • Who: Argentina vs. Croatia
  • What: Fifa World Cup semi-final
  • When: Tuesday 13 December 2022
  • Where: Lusail Stadium
  • Kick-off time: 7pm (all times GMT)

How to watch on TV in the UK

Tuesday’s semi-final clash between Argentina and Croatia will be shown live in the UK on ITV1 and ITVX. TV coverage begins at 6.15pm and the match kicks off at 7pm.

Croatia celebrate their shoot-out victory over Brazil

Croatia players celebrate their shoot-out victory over Brazil
(Image credit: Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)

Team news

Argentina full-backs Marcos Acuna and Gonzalo Montiel are both suspended, so Nicolas Tagliafico should come in on the left while Nahuel Molina will continue on the right. Winger Angel Di Maria came off the bench against the Netherlands, and his fitness could be a key factor in whether head coach Lionel Scaloni “opts for a four- or five-man defence”, said Marc Mayo in the London Evening Standard. Papu Gomez missed the quarter-final with an ankle knock and remains a doubt.

Croatia head coach Dalic has no suspension or injury worries. Left-back Borna Sosa returned for the win over Brazil while striker Bruno Petkovic is pushing for a start after scoring the late extra-time equaliser in the quarter-final.

Possible starting XIs

  • Argentina: Emiliano Martinez; Nahuel Molina, Cristian Romero, Nicolas Otamendi, Lisandro Martinez, Nicolas Tagliafico; Rodrigo De Paul, Enzo Fernandez, Alexis Mac Allister; Julian Alvarez, Lionel Messi
  • Croatia: Dominik Livakovic: Josip Juranovic, Dejan Lovren, Josko Gvardiol, Borna Sosa; Luka Modric, Marcelo Brozovic, Mateo Kovacic; Andrej Kramaric, Mario Pasalic, Ivan Perisic

Argentina captain Lionel Messi scored in his 1,000th career match

(Image credit: Juan Mabromata/AFP via Getty Images)


“I put my hands up here” because I have written off Croatia numerous times throughout this tournament, said Chris Sutton on BBC Sport. “And I don’t mind saying I’ve got them badly wrong.” Who knows how this game will play out and I would say it is “50-50 in terms of who will win”. But I haven’t done too badly “following my heart rather than my head”, so “I am going to do it again” and send Messi through to the final. “Yes, this means I am writing off Croatia yet again – which probably means another shoot-out, which they will win.” Prediction: Argentina 1 Croatia 0.

Ahead of kick-off, the Opta supercomputer makes Argentina “the favourites to progress without needing penalties (55.8%)”, said Patric Ridge on Opta Analyst. Croatia are given a “17.9% chance” of winning. Eight of Croatia’s last nine World Cup knockout matches have gone to extra-time, however, “so do not be surprised if this match is drawn over 90 minutes, or even 120”.

Another World Cup knockout game for Croatia, another period of extra time? “Strap in”, said Ben Knapton on SportsMole. Knowing how “dangerous” the Croatians are from 12 yards, Lionel Scaloni should “call upon his enviable wealth of attacking options” to try to “put the game to bed” in normal time, but it may take 120 minutes for La Albiceleste to deny the Checkered Ones another final appearance and set up a “tantalising contest” with Morocco or France. Prediction: Argentina 2 Croatia 1 (after extra time).

Despite Croatia’s “impressive showing” against Brazil, I am backing Argentina to deliver Messi his first World Cup victory, said Matthew Williams on Goal. I would expect a “low-scoring, highly-contested” match that is decided by corner kicks and individual brilliance. “Both of these categories favour Argentina.” Prediction: Argentina 2 Croatia 0.

After the way Croatia played against Brazil, “it’s hard to see why they can’t muster the same performance” against a similar opponent in Argentina, said Kyle Bonn on Sporting News. Argentina “do not look inspired” in the final third, and seeing as they’ll miss a few players due to yellow card suspensions, “Croatia could do the business again here with a pragmatic performance”.

Given how both teams have operated thus far, “it’s going to be very tight”, said Jonathan Gorrie in the London Evening Standard. Messi, however, “could prove the difference” for Argentina. Croatia “don’t hold too much of an attacking threat outside of penalties” and the Argentina captain could “punish them” in a game of few chances. Prediction: Argentina to win 1-0.

That “tightness” between the two teams makes this contest “almost impossible to predict over 90 minutes”, said Feargal Brennan on Football Italia. A draw at the end of normal time is a “strong possibility” – and extra time and penalties further down the line.

The stadium

The 80,000-seater Lusail Stadium is the centrepiece of the Qatar World Cup and will host the final next Sunday. Located nine miles north of Doha, six group games, one round of 16 match and the quarter-final between the Netherlands and Argentina have so far been held at the stadium.



  • Head coach: Lionel Scaloni
  • Key player: Lionel Messi
  • One to watch: Julian Alvarez
  • Goalkeepers: Emiliano Martinez (Aston Villa), Franco Armani (River Plate) and Geronimo Rulli (Villarreal)
  • Defenders: Gonzalo Montiel (Sevilla), Nahuel Molina (Atletico Madrid), German Pezzella (Real Betis), Cristian Romero (Tottenham Hotspur), Nicolas Otamendi (Benfica), Lisandro Martinez (Manchester United), Juan Foyth (Villarreal), Nicolas Tagliafico (Olympique Lyonnais), Marcos Acuna (Sevilla)
  • Midfielders: Leandro Paredes (Juventus), Guido Rodriguez (Real Betis), Enzo Fernandez (Benfica), Rodrigo De Paul (Atletico Madrid), Exequiel Palacios (Bayer Leverkusen), Alejandro Gomez (Sevilla), Alexis Mac Allister (Brighton & Hove Albion)
  • Forwards: Paulo Dybala (AS Roma), Lionel Messi (Paris Saint-Germain), Angel Di Maria (Juventus), Nicolas Gonzalez (Fiorentina), Joaquin Correa (Inter Milan), Lautaro Martinez (Inter Milan), Julian Alvarez (Manchester City)


  • Head coach: Zlatko Dalić
  • Key player: Luka Modric
  • One to watch: Josko Gvardiol
  • Goalkeepers: Domink Livakovic (Dinamo Zagreb), Ivica Ivusic (NK Osijek), Ivo Grbic (Atletico Madrid)
  • Defenders: Domagoj Vida (AEK Athens), Dejan Lovren (Zenit St Petersburg), Borna Barisic (Rangers), Josip Juranovic (Celtic), Josko Gvardiol (RB Leipzig), Borna Sosa (VfB Stuttgart), Josip Stanisic (Bayern Munich), Martin Erlic (Sassuolo), Josip Sutalo (Dinamo Zagreb)
  • Midfielders: Luka Modric (Real Madrid), Mateo Kovacic (Chelsea), Marcelo Brozovic (Inter Milan), Mario Pasalic (Atalanta), Nikola Vlasic (Torino, on loan from West Ham), Lovro Majer (Rennes), Kristijan Jakic (Eintracht Frankfurt), Luka Sucic (RB Salzburg)
  • Forwards: Ivan Perisic (Tottenham), Andrej Kramaric (1899 Hoffenheim), Bruno Petkovic (Dinamo Zagreb), Mislav Orsic (Dinamo Zagreb), Ante Budimir (Osasuna), Marko Livaja (Hajduk Split)

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Mike Starling is the digital features editor at The Week, where he writes content and edits the Arts & Life and Sport website sections and the Food & Drink and Travel newsletters. He started his career in 2001 in Gloucestershire as a sports reporter and sub-editor and has held various roles as a writer and editor at news, travel and B2B publications. He has spoken at a number of sports business conferences and also worked as a consultant creating sports travel content for tourism boards. International experience includes spells living and working in Dubai, UAE; Brisbane, Australia; and Beirut, Lebanon.