The first semi-final of the 2022 World Cup will pit two resolute and resilient sides both led by icons of the game looking to sign off at the international stage with the biggest trophy of them all. Argentina overcame the Netherlands in a penalty shootout in the quarter-final, but their frayed nerves were well on display as the Dutch found two late goals to force extra time. Meanwhile, Croatia made it eight out of nine knockout clashes that they won either in extra time or on penalties as they knocked out favourites Brazil in dramatic fashion. Catch today’s semi-final on Sling TV.
Today on one side are Argentina, seeking their third World Cup win and a first for Lionel Messi. The superstar will be calling time on his career in the not-so-distant future, and desperately wants to cap off a glittering career with the trophy that he craves the most of all. All the individual and team awards he has accumulated over the years pale in significance compared to this, and his teammates seem to be equally determined to help him get there, which is a big difference from prior campaigns where he has faltered carrying the weight of the nation’s expectations on his own.
They face off against Croatia, who are seeking to return to the World Cup Final four years after losing to France in the 2018 edition of the tournament in Russia. Led by the indefatigable Luka Modric, the Croats have shown themselves to be ‘mental monsters’ of a whole other nature, simply outlasting their opponents time and again. If ever there’s been a team that simply refuses to accept they have been beaten, then it’s the Vatreni - write them off at your own peril, as many national sides will attest to. Just ask Neymar.
- Date: Tuesday, December 13
- Kickoff Time: 11:00 am PT / 2:00 pm ET / 7:00 pm GMT
- Location: Lusail Stadium
- Match Officials: Referee: Daniele Orsato (ITA), Assistant Referee 1: Ciro Carbone (ITA), Assistant Referee 2: Alessandro Giallatini (ITA)
How To Watch: TV and streaming info via Live Soccer TV
TV - Fox Network, Telemundo, ITV
Streaming - Sling TV
Argentina XI: Lionel Scaloni has chopped and changed his Albiceleste squad on the way to the semi-finals, and will be forced into doing more of that for today’s game too. Fullbacks Gonzalo Montiel and Marcos Acuna were both booked in the quarters and will miss this game with suspensions, though goalscorer Nahuel Molina should step in for the former with Nicolas Tagliafico available for the latter.
The coach will also likely return to a four-man backline which means Manchester United’s Lisandro Martinez should give way for the fit-again Angel Di Maria.
E. Martinez; Molina, Romero, Otamendi, Tagliafico; Fernandez, De Paul, Mac Allister; Di Maria, Messi, Alvarez
Croatia XI: The European side have no injury concerns and saw Borna Sosa and Mislav Orsic fit to start in the quarters. Coach Zlatko Dalić has been looking to increase his side’s goal output and put in Mario Pasalic in from the start against Brazil, and the Atalanta wide-man will likely keep his spot with former Everton player Nikola Vlasic a likely substitute.
Livakovic; Juranovic, Lovren, Gvardiol, Sosa; Modric, Brozovic, Kovacic; Pasalic, Kramaric, Perisic
Croatia appear to have defied age and time to get to this stage a full four years after that incredible run in Russia 2018, but
Brazil Argentina might be the end of the road for some of those veterans.
Having written that previous paragraph in my preview for Croatia vs Brazil, I have eaten the requisite amount of crow. What remains to be seen is if I am going to have to do the same again for the World Cup Final as well.
For Argentina meanwhile, the 2-1 shock at the hands of Saudi Arabia in their World Cup opener now looks to be just another twist and turn in what appears to be Messi’s inevitable march to destiny. Since that reverse, the Albicelesti are playing with a grim tenacity that was a hallmark of their past two title-winning campaigns as well, and it would take a brave person indeed to say that they will not be playing in Sunday’s final.
Prediction: Argentina 2-1 Croatia (AET). There is no way this is getting settled in 90 minutes in my mind. Both sides are simply too tough for that to happen. I will make the call though that tired legs will eventually be the difference in this one, with a late mistake likely to settle the game in extra time.
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