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."

Germany can no longer call themselves an elite football nation after enduring an "embarrassing" elimination from the World Cup, according to former defender Holger Badstuber.

Hansi Flick's side finished third in a closely contested Group E despite beating Costa Rica 4-2 on Thursday, with Japan and Spain advancing after the Samurai Blue claimed a memorable 2-1 win over La Roja.

Germany have now failed to reach the knockout stages at consecutive World Cups and have gone 12 major tournament games without a clean sheet – their longest ever such run.

Writing in his World Cup column for Eurosport, Badstuber – a bronze medallist at the 2010 tournament – called for Germany to go back to basics.

"It is a debacle. Weak, embarrassing, unworthy, disappointing," he said. "Our defence no longer has anything to do with world class, not even with European class. 

"Defence wins titles. This old saying has not changed at all. Hansi Flick has to question himself, of course. I think he sees what's going wrong. 

"At the press conference, he already addressed the deficiencies in the training of the defence, but the basic structure of the national team also needs to be questioned hard.

"In the end, it was no longer about pure football, it was no longer about this game itself, about the association, not about the elite of German football. 

"Germany is no longer elite. Germany is definitely no longer one of the top nations in world football. We are no longer a top nation."

 

The form of Bayern Munich attacker Jamal Musiala has been one of the few positives to emerge from Germany's dismal campaign in Qatar, and Badstuber believes the teenager is the only player who escapes blame.

"I would like to exclude Jamal Musiala from my criticism," Badstuber continued. "At 19, he is already a brutally good player.

"I have to hold back, because I'm usually sparing with superlatives for such young players like him, but it's just pure pleasure to watch him. 

"He is incredibly stable and always ready to work on the defensive side as well. It's great to have him in the team, he will bring a lot of joy to Germany's football."

Former Bayern Munich and Germany defender Holger Badstuber has announced his retirement from football.

Badstuber made 178 appearances for Bayern in all competitions after making his debut in 2009, though injuries reduced him to just 28 games between the end of the 2012-13 season and his 2017 departure. 

The defender, who won 31 international caps and played at the World Cup in 2010 and then Euro 2012, later featured for Stuttgart and FC Luzern.

But Badstuber had been without a club after leaving the Swiss outfit by mutual agreement last December, and has now pledged to pursue a coaching career after hanging up his boots at the age of 33.

"Dear fans... after 13 years of professional football, I'm announcing the end of my career as an active player," he wrote on Twitter.

"With 31 senior international matches, World Cup and European Championship appearances, six German championships, four DFB-Pokal victories, winning the Champions League, the Club World Cup, the UEFA Super Cup and three national super cups, I can look back on a successful period.

"Of course I would have wished for a few less serious injuries, but the joy of what has been achieved is very great. I am thankful for everything.

"I will stay true to football, my passion. I will follow in my father's footsteps and start a coaching course.

"I hope that I will stay with football for a long time, albeit in a different role. Many thanks to all my companions and to you fans."

Badstuber won five Bundesliga titles and four DFB-Pokal trophies during his long spell with Bayern, as well as contributing to their 2012-13 Champions League triumph.

Bayern Munich and Robert Lewandowski should not have any bad blood between them if the striker moves on, says Holger Badstuber.

The Poland captain has made it clear he wants to leave the Bundesliga champions, with Barcelona eager to bring him to Camp Nou.

But with a year left on his contract and no obvious successor to the two-time European Golden Shoe winner, Bayern are playing hardball.

That has led to a particularly testy war of words between Lewandowski and the club - but former Bayern man Badstuber believes there should be no animosity if he departs.

"I think that the mutual appreciation should be here," Badstuber told Stats Perform.

"Bayern did a lot for Robert Lewandowski and Lewandowski did his job, which is scoring goals and he always represented Bayern well.

"So, in this case there should not be bad blood if Lewandowski decides to choose another path again."

Badstuber is intrigued to see who the Bavarian grants would bring in if the prolific Lewandowski leaves.

"It’s clear that Bayern must find an heir, an interesting candidate," he added. "Who knows who’s already on the radar or who they already have an eye on.

"It for sure is going to be interesting what comes, whenever that will be.

"For Hasan Salihamidzic it again is a task which he must solve with his team, and I think also with the coach."

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