Mateo Kovacic believes two "cardinal mistakes" from referee Daniele Orsato cost Croatia in Tuesday's World Cup semi-final defeat against Argentina.

Croatia's bid to reach a second consecutive World Cup final came to an end as Lionel Messi and Julian Alvarez starred at Lusail Stadium, with the latter scoring twice in Argentina's 3-0 win.

Messi opened the scoring from the penalty spot after Alvarez collided with goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic, and Kovacic was booked for dissent as several Croatia players protested the decision.

Less than a minute before Livakovic's foul, Croatia were denied a corner when Ivan Perisic's deflected shot looped onto the roof of Emiliano Martinez's net, leaving Kovacic in disbelief. 

"I can't believe it's not a corner," the Chelsea midfielder told reporters after the game. "Then the penalty... 

"I have never commented on the referees nor is it my intention to do so, but these are two cardinal mistakes, and they cost you."

Kovacic's midfield partner Luka Modric concurred, insisting Croatia were in the ascendency before the penalty was awarded.

"The first goal, it was not a penalty, that's my opinion. It stressed us a little bit. Half a minute before that it was supposed to be a corner and we were not awarded one," he said.

"I think after the penalty, it changed the whole match. Before the penalty, we were the ones controlling the game. 

"Maybe we were not so dangerous in front of their goal, but we were the ones in possession, controlling the ball. 

"Unfortunately the penalty changed everything, a penalty I'd never have called in this match. I'm so upset they called this type of penalty against us."

However, Modric did acknowledge Argentina were deserved victors, adding: "We lost the game, that happens. We just have to congratulate Argentina. They were the better team today, they for sure deserved it more than us."

Meanwhile, Kovacic credited Messi for another outstanding performance as the 35-year-old became the first player to both score and assist in four separate World Cup games.

Messi teed up Alvarez for his second goal after beating Josko Gvardiol twice in the same move, while the Manchester City forward's first strike came at the end of his own impressive solo run.

"We knew they were aggressive and good and that they had Messi," Kovacic said. "He was phenomenal and should be congratulated.

"Those two situations are incredible, we conceded two ridiculous goals."

Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni has "no doubt" Lionel Messi is the greatest player of all time after inspiring La Albiceleste's progression to the World Cup final.

Messi was in irresistible form on Tuesday at Lusail Stadium, playing a key role in all three goals as Argentina beat Croatia 3-0 in Qatar 2022's first semi-final.

He opened the scoring from the spot in the first half after Julian Alvarez was fouled by Dominik Livakovic and then released his strike partner in the build-up to him making it 2-0.

But the best was yet to come.

With 21 minutes to go, Messi embarked on a tremendous run up the right flank as he darted past Josko Gvardiol before then beating the defender again on the outside and eventually cutting back to Alvarez for a simple finish.

Messi became the first player to both score and assist in four separate World Cup matches (since 1966), while his penalty saw the 35-year-old become Argentina's all-time leading scorer in the tournament with 11 goals.

For some, Messi's claim to the 'greatest player of all time' title rides on him winning the World Cup, but not for Scaloni.

He told reporters: "Whether Messi is the greatest player of all time… sometimes as Argentinians it of course looks like we say that just because we are Argentinian.

"Maybe it's selfish. I don't have any doubt saying that: he is the best in history.

"I have the privilege. I am honoured to train him and see him play. It's something exciting because every time you see him play, it's a huge source of motivation for his team-mates, the people, the whole world.


"So there is nothing left to say about Messi. It's indeed a privilege to have him in the squad."

While Messi is of course the headline act and the focus for many, Alvarez more than played his part on Tuesday.

His goals will lead to praise, but Scaloni was keen to highlight how important his general work rate and industriousness were for the team effort.

"The match of Julian was excellent, not just because of his two goals, but because he was extremely helpful with the midfielders," Scaloni explained.

"Sometimes we had two midfielders because the others had to cover other players, they had to cover the flanks, and he showcased excellent football [intelligence].

"With his age, [his work ethic] is normal because he wants to give everything on the pitch. What you say to him, he shows it on the pitch.

"We are very happy with him because he was able to score goals, which is something great especially for a striker like him."

Scaloni will emulate some legendary figures of Argentinian football in Cesar Luis Menotti, Carlos Bilardo and Alejandro Sabella by coaching the Albiceleste in the World Cup final.

But he still does not feel worthy of being considered on their level.

"Yes, to reach the final is amazing, but I can't make comparisons with these three names because they are history in the national team," he added.

"They've defended these colours. They made Argentina a great nation. Yes, it's a great source of pride for me to be able to play a final and represent my country.

"But I can't rise to this perch because they made history in the world of football, not only in Argentina.

"For me, just to coach this final is a huge privilege."

Argentina will play the final on Sunday against either France or Morocco, who will tussle at Al Bayt Stadium in the second semi-final on Wednesday.

Lionel Messi hailed Argentina's resilience after his majestic display against Croatia ensured a World Cup that began with defeat to Saudi Arabia could end in glory.

Messi recorded a goal and an assist as Argentina posted a 3-0 win over Croatia at Lusail Stadium on Tuesday to reach their sixth World Cup final – a tally only bettered by Germany (eight).

Having opened the scoring from the penalty spot in the first half, Messi rolled back the years with a remarkable assist as Julian Alvarez completed his brace after the break, beating Josko Gvardiol twice before teeing up a simple finish for the Manchester City forward.

Messi now has the chance to cap his incredible career by lifting football's biggest prize, a prospect that appeared unlikely when Argentina lost their Group C opener three weeks ago.

The 35-year-old reflected on that surprise defeat after Tuesday's victory, saying Argentina channelled their disappointment to rescue their tournament.

"I'd say the first game was a hard blow for all of us because we had been unbeaten in 36 matches. To start it like that was a hard blow," Messi said in a post-match press conference.

"We didn't think we'd lose to Saudi. It was an acid test, but we've shown how strong we are.

"It was very difficult what we did, because every match has been a final and this brings a mental load. We were aware if we didn't win then everything would be more complicated. 

"We've played five finals and, luckily enough, been able to win them. I hope this will be the same for the final. Internally we were confident we'd make it as we know what we are capable of. 

"Yes, we lost the first match because of fine details, but that helped us to be stronger and to grow in the tournament and internally as a squad."


Croatia bested Argentina's rivals Brazil in a tense penalty shoot-out in the previous round, but Messi felt the Albiceleste's intelligence and willingness to "suffer" was the key against experienced opponents.

"I would say this squad, beyond the collective strengths, is very intelligent and wise, we know how to read the game and every moment," Messi said.

"It's something the coach said before, it's a very intelligent squad. We know when to suffer, when to press. We know how to read the games, we know what to do in every moment, how to win." 

Messi has now recorded eight goal involvements (five goals, three assists) in Qatar, moving ahead of Kylian Mbappe (five goals, two assists) prior to France's semi-final meeting with Morocco, and he is enjoying every minute of the campaign.

"Well, what I can say is I'm enjoying this a lot, I'm feeling really good, I feel strong enough to face every match," Messi added.

"The previous game was a big sacrifice, it went to extra time, that wasn't easy. Today we're tired, but we pooled our strengths to earn this victory.  

"Personally, I can say I feel very happy in this whole World Cup, I'm enjoying it a lot, and luckily I am able to help the whole squad make things happen."

Lionel Messi revealed "I don't know if it's my best World Cup" after his inspirational performance against Croatia helped Argentina reach another final.

Messi opened the scoring from the penalty spot before providing a remarkable assist for Julian Alvarez's second goal at Lusail Stadium, where Lionel Scaloni's side will face France or Morocco in the showpiece on Sunday.

The Argentina captain has now found the net five times in Qatar – moving him level with Paris Saint-Germain team-mate Kylian Mbappe in the race for the Golden Boot.

The 35-year-old surpassed his tally of four when he guided his nation to the final in 2014, where he won the Golden Ball for the tournament's best player despite narrowly missing out on glory following a 1-0 defeat to Germany.

"I feel a lot of things, it's very exciting to see all this," said Messi, who also became the World Cup's joint-leading appearance maker in history (25 – level with Lothar Matthaus).

"Seeing the people, the family throughout the World Cup was incredible. We're going for the last game, which was what we wanted.

"I don't know if it's my best World Cup or not. I've been enjoying this for a while. We were confident that this group was going to pull it off. We know who we are, and we asked people to believe in us.

"We have been through tough situations, others very good. Today, we live something spectacular. I am enjoying with all these people and with all the Argentines who are in our country. I imagine it must be crazy.

"We knew we weren't the top candidates, but we weren't going to give anything to anyone. We were demonstrating it game-by-game. Argentina is, once again, in the final of the world. Enjoy!"

Lionel Messi revealed "I don't know if it's my best World Cup" after his inspirational performance against Croatia helped Argentina reach another final.

Messi opened the scoring from the penalty spot before providing a remarkable assist for Julian Alvarez's second goal at Lusail Stadium, where Lionel Scaloni's side will face France or Morocco in the showpiece on Sunday.

The Argentina captain has now found the net five times in Qatar – moving him level with Paris Saint-Germain team-mate Kylian Mbappe in the race for the Golden Boot.

The 35-year-old surpassed his tally of four when he guided his nation to the final in 2014, where he won the Golden Ball for the tournament's best player despite narrowly missing out on glory following a 1-0 defeat to Germany.

"I feel a lot of things, it's very exciting to see all this," said Messi, who also became the World Cup's joint-leading appearance maker in history (25 – level with Lothar Matthaus).

"Seeing the people, the family throughout the World Cup was incredible. We're going for the last game, which was what we wanted.

"I don't know if it's my best World Cup or not. I've been enjoying this for a while. We were confident that this group was going to pull it off. We know who we are, and we asked people to believe in us.

"We have been through tough situations, others very good. Today, we live something spectacular. I am enjoying with all these people and with all the Argentines who are in our country. I imagine it must be crazy.

"We knew we weren't the top candidates, but we weren't going to give anything to anyone. We were demonstrating it game-by-game. Argentina is, once again, in the final of the world. Enjoy!"

"Now is all."

That is the peculiar slogan at Qatar 2022. It is a phrase plastered around the streets of Doha, on banners at every stadium, hanging down from the ceiling at the huge media hub at Qatar National Convention Centre. Nobody seems to know who exactly came up with it or what exactly it means.

Nobody, perhaps, but Lionel Messi. Because for Lionel Messi, playing at his final World Cup at the age of 35, now really is all, and he is playing like it. Maybe those marketing gurus were onto something after all?

Messi and Argentina are into the final. They swatted aside Croatia – who themselves had scuppered the chance of an all-South American semi-final by beating Brazil on penalties – 3-0 at Lusail Stadium.

To say Argentina have been entirely convincing in Qatar would be an overstatement, but they turned in their best performance of the tournament by far on Tuesday. 

And of course, it's always about Messi. Even when it isn't all about him.

Even when Julian Alvarez – winner of the penalty from which Messi opened the scoring in the 34th minute – trundled through on goal for Argentina's second, Croatia's defence crumbling one by one in comical fashion before the Manchester City striker finally prodded home, it was Messi who had supplied a deft touch to start the youngster's break.

Perhaps the greatest quality of this Argentina team, who came into the tournament on a 36-match unbeaten run and as Copa America champions, only to lose to Saudi Arabia in their Group C opener, is that everything is serviced to Messi. Not in the way that, say, Portugal for many years have had to service Cristiano Ronaldo's thirst for goals, but how Lionel Scaloni's squad know their only real route to success is through that magician in the number 10 shirt.

Not that they had it all their own way. Argentina had been made to work for each prior victory at this tournament and, as Scaloni pointed out in his pre-match press conference, all of their matches since losing to Saudi Arabia have been must-win. Tuesday's tie was no different.

Croatia, 3-0 winners over La Albiceleste at Russia 2018, dominated the opening stages, albeit without offering much threat. Indeed, Dejan Lovren's wayward header was the only effort either side mustered in the first 20 minutes.

Messi, whose warm-up had mainly consisted of dead-ball practice and a few jogs, had only five touches in the first 10 minutes – and four of those were passes (he completed all of them, of course).

There will have been concern on Scaloni's bench when Messi felt and then stretched out his left thigh. Any uneasiness might well have grown when he was caught on the ball and Mateo Kovacic led a counter-attack that resulted in a Croatia free-kick.

Seven minutes later, though, Argentina had Messi where they wanted him. Standing over the ball on the penalty spot. One lofted ball had done for Croatia's defence and the superb Alvarez had drawn a rash tackle from goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic.

A penalty-saving expert in shoot-outs, Livakovic could not get near this spot-kick, rifled high into the left side of his net by that remarkable left foot. That dead-ball practice came in handy.


It's a goal that made Messi his nation's record scorer in the World Cup, overtaking Gabriel Batistuta, who was in attendance to see it happen. He is also the first Argentina player to score in three different knockout rounds at a World Cup – he hadn't scored a single knockout-stage goal before this edition.

The one-two blow to Croatia's hopes was complete five minutes after that, when Alvarez found his way through a defence that parted like the Red Sea. Only a toe on the ball as Alvarez bundled through meant it did not count as Messi's assist.

Alvarez has now scored in six of his eight starts for Argentina, and the energy of youth is one of the foundations Scaloni is building to facilitate Messi, who by the end of the first half was toying with Croatia's defence.

Only a smart stop from Livakovic denied Messi a second early in the second half after a quick exchange of passes with Enzo Fernandez, another of Argentina's next generation.

But there was more for Messi to do. Croatia were applying some pressure, so the game wasn't truly up. Until Messi decided it was with 21 minutes remaining.

Josko Gvardiol has been one of the best defenders at the tournament and has been linked with Europe's elite, but the 20-year-old was twisted one way and then the other by Argentina's captain, who coolly laid on Alvarez to round things off.

Messi now leads the way for goal involvements in Qatar, with eight. He is joint-top of the scoring charts with club-mate Kylian Mbappe and that assist took him level with that other legendary Argentine number 10, Diego Maradona, on eight at the World Cup finals, which is the record since the 1966 edition.

His 19 goal involvements at the World Cup overall equals the best such tally for a player in the 56 years for which data is available. He's the only player to score and assist in four separate matches at the tournament, too. When he plays in the final, he will become the player with the most World Cup appearances in history.

It has been 36 and a half years since Maradona dragged Argentina to glory in Mexico, but now Messi has the chance to do the same and finally claim the only trophy missing from his vast collection.

Maradona's brilliance cannot be discounted, of course, but it's worth noting that he was 25, 10 years younger than Messi is now, when he won Argentina their second and most recent World Cup.

Argentina have finished runners-up twice since then, most recently to Germany in 2014, when Messi was in his prime.

Now, they'll face France or Morocco on Sunday, back in Lusail.

Now, Messi will have his second and final shot at becoming a world champion.

Now, of course, is all.

Lionel Messi's quest for an elusive World Cup triumph is just one step from completion after he inspired Argentina to a 3-0 win over Croatia on Tuesday that secured their place in the final.

Croatia had proven stern opposition when eliminating Brazil in the previous round, but they crashed out at Lusail Stadium as Argentina continued their impressive record of never losing a World Cup semi-final.

Messi was key, putting Argentina ahead from the penalty spot to become his country's all-time leading World Cup goalscorer with 11, then playing a role in Julian Alvarez's somewhat fortuitous second.

There was nothing lucky about Argentina's third goal in the second half, as Messi's brilliant solo run teed up Alvarez to put the game beyond doubt.

Neither side looked willing commit many bodies forward early on, but a rare defensive lapse handed Argentina the initiative just past the half-hour mark.

Dejan Lovren played Alvarez onside before Dominik Livakovic collided with the striker to concede a penalty, which Messi slammed into the top-right corner.

It was 2-0 five minutes later following some poor Croatia defending.

Messi's pass released Alvarez on the counter-attack, and he stabbed home from close range after running half the length of the pitch and profiting from three ricochets in the Croatia box.

Argentina sat back more after the break and Croatia struggled to find a way through, with goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez largely untroubled.

Any hope of a Croatia comeback was emphatically ended 21 minutes from time.

Messi darted past Josko Gvardiol on the right, checked back, and then beat him again around the outside before cutting back to the grateful Alvarez, who applied the finish.

Lionel Messi set a new record for the most Argentina goals scored at World Cups after netting his 11th in Tuesday's semi-final against Croatia.

Messi went into the game level on 10 with Albiceleste great Gabriel Batistuta, having already netted four times en route to the semis.

His fifth of the campaign, drawing level with Kylian Mbappe in the Golden Boot race, came from the penalty spot at Lusail Stadium.

Messi scored the opening goal of the game against Croatia 11 minutes before half-time, blasting into the top-right corner after Julian Alvarez was fouled by Dominik Livakovic.

Batistuta only needed 12 games to reach his tally, while Messi was making his 25th World Cup appearance on Tuesday – that saw him equal Lothar Matthaus' all-time record for most outings at the tournament.

Nevertheless, Messi's strike highlights the Paris Saint-Germain star's remarkable longevity.

Qatar 2022 is the fifth World Cup Messi has played in, a feat no one has ever bettered.

His first World Cup goal came in 2006 against Serbia and Montenegro. At 18 years and 357 days, it made him Argentina's youngest ever scorer in the competition.

He would need to play again in the 2026 World Cup – during which he will turn 39 – to become Argentina's oldest scorer at the tournament, however, with Martin Palermo (36 years, 227 days) holding that particular record.

The 2022 World Cup is widely expected to be Messi's last.

Lionel Messi will match Lothar Matthaus' World Cup record of 25 appearances after the Argentina captain was, as expected, named in the starting XI to face Croatia.

Messi, whose six goal involvements in Qatar have only been bettered by France's Kylian Mbappe (seven), will hope to lead Argentina into the final by overcoming the 2018 runners-up at Lusail Stadium on Tuesday.

The 35-year-old is Argentina's joint-highest goalscorer in the competition with 10 goals and is one assist away from equalling Diego Maradona's record of eight at World Cup tournaments (since 1966).

He has both scored and assisted a goal in three different World Cup matches, including two at this tournament (vs Mexico and the Netherlands). Since 1966, no player has ever done so in four separate games.

Coach Lionel Scaloni made two changes to the team that featured from the off against the Netherlands.

With Marcos Acuna suspended, Nicolas Tagliafico was selected at left-back, while Leandro Paredes came into the midfield with defender Lisandro Martinez dropping out.

Zlatko Dalic, meanwhile, stuck with the side that started against Brazil on Friday.

That means Luka Modric will become only the fourth player aged 37 or over to start six matches at a World Cup, after Brazil's Nilton Santos in 1962, Italy's Dino Zoff in 1982 and England's Peter Shilton in 1990.

Modric was named in midfield alongside Marcelo Brozovic and Mateo Kovacic. Andrej Kramaric retained his place up front, with Bruno Petkovic, who netted against Brazil, on the bench.

This is the third World Cup meeting between Argentina and Croatia, and the first in the knockout stages.

Argentina won 1-0 in 1998, before Croatia's 3-0 win in the 2018 edition in Russia.

Croatia are the only side capable of stopping Lionel Messi and Argentina in their tracks at this World Cup, according to former Germany international Holger Badstuber.

The two nations collide at Lusail Stadium in what promises to be a mouth-watering semi-final encounter on Tuesday, with France or Morocco awaiting the winners in Sunday's showpiece.

Croatia, who battled their way to the 2018 final before losing 4-2 to France, are one win away from matching that performance four years on following a similarly determined run in Qatar.

Zlatko Dalic's side came from behind against Japan and Brazil in the knockout stages, before successfully prevailing in a penalty shoot-out on both occasions.

Badstuber, who was part of the Germany side that finished third at the 2010 World Cup, is a huge admirer of the Vatreni.

"I can't get what Zlatko Dalic said out of my head," Badstuber wrote in his Eurosport column. "Because it sums up things exactly at this exciting World Cup in Qatar.

"The Croatia coach said after his team's quarter-final victory in the penalty shoot-out against Brazil: 'Only Croatians can do that.' There is so much to those words; so much conviction, character and strength that I have great respect for this top football nation.

"Croatia is a top nation in world football. The 2018 final was no coincidence, and the current success is definitely no surprise. All those who still speak of Croatia as a surprise team have not looked closely enough.

"This team seems almost unbreakable because, in a way, it combines several valuable qualities: bite, self-drive, ambition, emotion and the will to devote 100 per cent to the cause.

"[The semi-final] has the potential to be an epic battle with what I would call a certain basic aggression, two strong midfield lines and fanatical fans in the stands. I don't see a favourite, the chances are 50-50.

"[Previously] I described why Messi is actually almost unstoppable. In the meantime, however, I am convinced that the Croatians can do it as a team. And probably only them."

The former Bayern Munich defender lined up alongside the likes of Mario Mandzukic and Ivica Olic during his time with the Bavarian giants, and is subsequently well aware of the character their compatriots bring to the table.

"Croatian players who I have played with in my career were all very good footballers, real 'gamblers' with a positive aggressiveness who embody the image of a street footballer," he explained.

"They fight back, they don't take any s*** on the pitch. This aggressiveness becomes a unit on the pitch, which is why it is so difficult to play against them.

"Niggles, even hidden fouls, make them an unpleasant opponent in the first place. The fact that they also set highlights from midfield makes them really dangerous."

Bayern Munich will not make a move for Croatia goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic as a replacement for Manuel Neuer, says Oliver Kahn. 

The Bundesliga champions are set to be without their first choice man between the posts after he suffered a leg injury on holiday following Germany's exit from Qatar 2022.

With Neuer out for the season, it remains to be seen whether Bayern will stick with Sven Ulreich as his understudy or look further afield.

Dinamo Zagreb keeper Livakovic has enjoyed an excellent World Cup with Croatia so far, and was the hero in their penalty shoot-out win over Brazil, but Kahn says they will not be looking at him as an option.

"The man who stopped Brazil will always be a hero to me," Kahn said. "Livakovic is worthy of praise. Such a goalkeeper must play at a top club.

"I have no doubt that this will be the case in the new season, but at the same time, he is not within the scope of our interests."

Kahn refused to comment on speculation Bayern will dip into the market in the new year in pursuit of a new goalkeeper, though he acknowledged the club needed to consider their options.

"We've lost our goalkeeper before the end of the season," he added. "It's terrible because he is one of the best in the world. It's a very serious loss for the team.

"We believe that the recovery will go well and his return too, but for now, we have to solve the problem of a replacement. This is temporary. Manuel will be back."

Arsenal will reportedly launch a move for Shakhtar Donetsk winger Mykhaylo Mudryk in January, with his price now said to be more negotiable than the initial demand of €100million.

The 21-year-old has been a revelation this season for the Ukrainian club, announcing his arrival with a goal and two assists in a 4-1 win against RB Leipzig to kick off his side's Champions League campaign.

He scored both home and away against Celtic, while also racking up seven goals and six assists in 12 league fixtures, emerging as one of the most talented young forwards outside of Europe's big five competitions.

Earlier reports had claimed Shakhtar would hold out for a fee matching what Manchester United paid for Antony, but new information states that is no longer believed to be the case.



According to The Athletic, there is a "good chance" Mudryk's move to Arsenal will materialise, with the publication claiming he is "determined to make the Emirates Stadium his destination".

The report says Arsenal will investigate what other deals they could potentially accomplish for a similar fee, but that "interested parties are of the understanding that a lower fee [than the initial €100m demand] would be deemed acceptable".

Adding fuel to the fire is the belief that the Kroenke family are willing to throw their trust into Edu and Mikel Arteta's decisions amid an unexpected Premier League title challenge, increasing the chance of such a significant January investment.



– Marca is reporting Arsenal have become the favourites to land 23-year-old Atletico Madrid forward Joao Felix in January, providing further indication the Gunners plan on making a splash in the upcoming transfer window.

– According to Sky Sports Germany's Florian Plettenberg, Milan rejected a €70m bid from Chelsea for Rafael Leao, and are holding firm on his €150m release clause with just over 18 months remaining on his contract.

– La Capital is reporting Liverpool have signed a pre-agreement for 21-year-old Benfica midfielder Enzo Fernandez, who is believed to be valued at €100m.

Paris Saint-Germain are interested in signing 25-year-old Barcelona winger Ousmane Dembele, per El Nacional.

– Foot Mercato claims Manchester City have joined Manchester United and Chelsea in the pursuit of 20-year-old Croatia and RB Leipzig centre-back Josko Gvardiol.

Croatia are "living for the moment" as they prepare for a World Cup semi-final against Lionel Messi's Argentina, so says Borna Sosa.

Zlatko Dalic's team reached the final in Russia four years ago, losing to France, who will play Morocco in the other semi-final in Qatar.

Croatia were not fancied among the favourites to succeed in Qatar but overcame Brazil on penalties to reach the last four for the third time in their history.

Now they face Argentina, with the prospect of knocking both South American giants out of the World Cup - should Croatia do so, they would be the first team since Germany in 2014 to manage it.

Borna Sosa was excellent against Brazil. keeping Raphinha and then Antony quiet down Croatia's left side, and the full-back has every confidence this team can go the distance.

"Of course. Now, everything is possible," he said. "We are very dangerous like we showed. If it comes to penalties, I think everybody will have in their heads that we've won many, many times.

"The last World Cup, we were second. We are coming with a new squad with 17 and 18-year-old players, and we are showing that we have a lot of quality in our country.

"We have only four million people and we are showing a lot of good results for many years. That's why I'm proud of the whole nation because we are really living for this moment.

"This is our biggest strength as a team - to fight together. We do not have stars in the team who don't want to run or defend.

"We are really showing a lot of respect to the game and we are trying to give everything on the pitch."

It was Argentina's continental rivals Brazil that had become renowned for their dancing at this tournament.

Lionel Scaloni, though, wants his team to "keep dancing" as they bid for a place in the showpiece on December 18.

He said: "It's an objective. Now that we're dancing, we have to keep dancing.

"We'd like to continue, with all the respect we have to have with Croatia. Let's hope we live up to it."


Argentina – Lionel Messi

Messi, likely playing at his final World Cup, is leading the charge for Argentina as he looks to add the trophy to his collection.

The 35-year-old has both scored and assisted a goal in three different World Cup matches, including two at this year's tournament (vs Mexico and Netherlands).

Since 1966, no player has ever done so in four separate games.

Croatia – Marcelo Brozovic

Marcelo Brozovic has been excellent as a deep-lying playmaker for Croatia, and the Inter midfielder might well be crucial to stopping Messi.

If Brozovic can block off the central space and force Argentina wide, then they might just be able to limit Messi's influence.


This is the third World Cup meeting between Argentina and Croatia, and first in the knockout stages. Argentina won 1-0 in 1998, before Croatia's 3-0 win in the 2018 edition in Russia.

Opta makes Argentina the favourites (55.8 per cent), with Croatia given a 17.9 per cent 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.

There should be little argument where Lionel Messi stands among the pantheon of greats.

Whether he is the greatest of all time (GOAT, as the cool kids say) or just one of the very best to ever play the beautiful game, as if that wasn't enough – well, that debate will probably go on forever.

Winning the World Cup, or so far failing to do so in Messi's case, is what has been widely used by some to insist the Barcelona great cannot be considered as the best ever.

So, at what the 35-year-old has said will be his final World Cup, what more of a fitting way to bow out than to lead Argentina's charge to success.

Messi is certainly leading the charge, too. He seems a man possessed, single-handedly dragging Lionel Scaloni's side through against Australia in the last 16 before showing his aggressive side in the penalty shoot-out victory over the Netherlands, having set up one and scored the other of Argentina's two goals in regulation time.

While the world waits for Messi to finally clinch the trophy, another evergreen star in the supposed twilight of his career is still shining bright.

Luka Modric's Croatia team were not fancied to repeat their efforts of four years ago, when they made the final in Russia only to lose to France.

Yet after overcoming favourites Brazil on penalties, it is Croatia and Modric, 37 years young, who will vie to deny Messi his fairy-tale ending.

Tuesday's semi-final at Lusail Stadium might just boil down to two of the game's very best.


Messi magic Argentina's saving grace

After winning the Copa America last year, Argentina were always going to be among the favourites in Qatar. News of Messi confirming this would be his final shot at becoming a world champion only seemed to strengthen La Albiceleste's claim.

They went into the tournament on the back of a 36-game unbeaten run and they were facing Saudi Arabia in their Group C opener - surely, that streak would be extended to 37? Well, it wasn't. Messi scored, from the penalty spot, but Argentina slumped to a 2-1 defeat.

It left them needing to beat Mexico and Poland to ensure progress, and they did just that, if far from convincingly, at least against Mexico when Messi, again, was the difference-maker, this time with a low shot from the edge of the box, placed with delicate precision into the bottom corner, and then an assist for Enzo Fernandez's superb effort.

Messi scored Argentina's opener against Australia and then managed the match in the closing stages as Scaloni's team saw out a nervy 2-1 win after Fernandez's own goal gave the Socceroos hope.

Against the Dutch, Messi assisted Nahuel Molina's opener with the pass of the tournament – a defence-splitting, eye-of-the-needle throughball – before scoring a 73rd-minute penalty. It should have seen Argentina through comfortably, but they capitulated in the closing stages before rediscovering their composure in the shoot-out (Messi scored in that, too).

As they always do with Messi, the statistics speak for themselves. 

Messi's six goal contributions (four goals, two assists) in this tournament trail only his Paris Saint-Germain club-mate Kylian Mbappe (seven). To further prove his importance to Argentina, he has been involved in 39 shot-ending sequences in open play at this World Cup, 15 more than any of his team-mates.


He will equal Lothar Matthaus as the player with the most appearances in World Cup history (25) when he takes to the field on Tuesday, while his goal against the Netherlands saw him match Gabriel Batistuta as Argentina's record scorer in the tournament, with 10 goals.

Messi has both scored and assisted a goal in three World Cup games, including two at this tournament. Since 1966, no other player has ever done so in four separate matches, while one more assist would see Messi equal the late, great Diego Maradona's record of eight at World Cup finals.

There is more than the hint of Maradona-ness to Messi's performances, too. Often reasonably compared to Maradona in terms of playing style, Messi has never quite had the same penchant for chaos as Argentina's first iconic number 10, but it is hard to avoid the similarities of 1986, when Maradona dragged a rather average Argentina side to glory in Mexico.

Maybe Lionel is finally letting his inner Diego loose, and maybe the outcome will be the same – although VAR will ensure there's no 'Hand of God' repeat.


Modric a master at work

Messi will play his 171st game for Argentina on Tuesday. Modric, on the other hand, will make his 161st Croatia appearance. 

"It's such a pleasure to see him play, a role model for so many of us, not because of his talents as a player but also his behaviour," said Argentina coach Scaloni of Modric in his pre-match press conference.

"We should enjoy him, just like all the top players. If you love football, you want to see these players on the pitch."

It is, indeed, a pleasure to watch Modric do his thing. It is over a decade since the mercurial midfielder swapped Tottenham for Real Madrid, and the understated nature of his performances have, naturally, seen him go under the radar.

That changed in 2018 when, at 32, Modric won the Golden Ball at the Russia World Cup for his efforts in taking Croatia to their first final.

Croatia might have fallen short against France but Modric was incredible, and he went on to win the Ballon d'Or later that year, becoming the only player other than Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo to scoop that prize since Kaka in 2007.

Arguably, though, his performances in Qatar have been just as good.


Yes, Croatia's approach under Zlatko Dalic is not the prettiest, but in Modric, Mateo Kovacic and Marcelo Brozovic they have a midfield with a bit of everything; bite, skill and composure.

Captain Modric, who scored a stunning goal in Croatia's 3-0 defeat of Argentina at the last World Cup, is still the standout.

He has made the most World Cup appearances (17) of any Croatian player and has started all five of their games in Qatar. He will become only the fourth player aged 37 or older to start six matches at World Cup on Tuesday, barring any surprises. 

Even if his energy levels aren't quite what they used to be (he was subbed off in extra time against Japan in the last 16), Modric has, if anything, got even smarter with when and where he expends that energy.

Twice against Brazil, he skipped through midfield to relieve the pressure on Croatia's defence. His carry distance of 1,455 metres ranks second out of midfielders at the tournament, only behind Spain's Rodri. However, Rodri was playing in defence, naturally meaning he would carry the ball further, given Spain's possession-based approach.

Modric has won seven of his 12 attempted tackles, and 26 of his 58 duels, completing 330 of 373 passes (88.5 per cent). Against Brazil, he completed the most passes and had the most touches of anyone on the pitch.

Like Messi, this is surely Modric's World Cup swansong, but his excellence cannot be overlooked either.

Team-mate Borna Sosa claimed Modric must rank within the best five midfielders of all time, and should he drive Croatia on to their second straight World Cup final, there should be little debate over that.

Brazil great Ronaldo says Lionel Messi's incredible achievements do not mean he deserves to win the World Cup and the Argentina captain must earn his shot at glory.

Messi provided a goal and an assist as Argentina overcame the Netherlands on penalties in the last eight, and he will hope to lead the Albiceleste to their sixth World Cup final when they meet Croatia in Tuesday's semi-final.

The Paris Saint-Germain forward has assumed a talismanic role in Qatar, with his return of six goal contributions - four goals and two assists - only bettered by Kylian Mbappe, who has five goals and two assists.

Messi has both scored and assisted in two different games at this World Cup, and in three at the tournament overall. Since 1966, no player has done so on four occasions.

While praising Messi's performances, Ronaldo warned lifting the World Cup will not come easily for the seven-time Ballon d'Or winner.

"We all deserve it. Nobody gives you anything, not even for your story," Ronaldo told reporters on Monday.

"Argentina isn't playing very well, but they play together, they're aggressive and then there's Messi, who is decisive when he's near the box. He now does less sprints than before.

"At the beginning of his career he did 30 actions and now he does 10, but he is still decisive. As soon as he gets the ball and he sees spaces, or is in the area, he is a killer.

"Would I be happy if Messi won the World Cup? Of course, I would be happy for him, but there is a big rivalry between Brazil and Argentina.

"I'm not going to be hypocritical and say that I would be happy for Argentina, that's not true!"

Messi will equal Lothar Matthaus' record of 25 World Cup appearances when he takes to the field on Tuesday, while a goal would see the 35-year-old surpass Gabriel Batistuta's tally of 10 World Cup strikes for the Albiceleste.


While Argentina remain in contention for a third World Cup triumph, their great rivals Brazil crashed out in the quarter-finals after losing a dramatic penalty shoot-out against Croatia.

The decision for Neymar to take Brazil's fifth and final penalty – a kick which never arrived due to Rodrygo and Marquinhos failing to convert – has attracted criticism, but Ronaldo does not view it as a mistake.

"I don't agree with any of the theories about the penalty shoot-out," he said. "I think changing the sequence... it's extremely delicate for you to approach a player and show that you don't have confidence in him, asking for another to take his place.

"That doesn't exist in football, in a group where everyone has full confidence in the coach and the nation. 

"You arrive and ask to change, this is a great absurdity. Those who support this theory do not understand the dynamics of a group."

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