Argentina have reached the semifinals of the World Cup for the second time in three tournaments, and they will be motivated to go all the way in Qatar is what is Lionel Messi’s last World Cup.
Having announced his decision to bow out from the biggest stage of all before the tournament began, Messi has put on a show for fans at the 2022 edition, scoring four goals and grabbing two assists, including a magical one against the Netherlands in the quarterfinal.
Magic 🪄 pic.twitter.com/e8CCpA3ito
— VUJ (@DavidVujanic) December 9, 2022
Despite the Messi magic, it hasn’t been plain sailing for La Albiceleste, with a shock opening defeat to Saudi Arabia, almost coughing up a two goal lead in the Round of 16 against Australia, then doing exactly that against the Dutch in the quarterfinals. But, after letting the Dutch back into the game in the 10th minute of added time, they regained their composure in what was a fiery match to progress on penalties.
They next come up against a Croatia side who knocked out Brazil in the quarterfinals. Whilst many Argentinian’s rejoiced in their South American rival’s defeat, Croatia will be a stern test for a side that has at times struggled to put in strong performances for the whole 90 minutes.
The Sporting News looks at how Argentina have lined up in the World Cup so far, their key players and how they may approach this massive semifinal match up.
Argentina World Cup roster
Argentina have used multiple set-ups and formations throughout the tournament, with every match seeing a different formation rolled out.
Their loss to Saudi Arabia saw them lineup in a 4-4-2, with Messi and Lautaro Martinez starting up top, and Angel Di Maria and Alejandro ‘Papu’ Gomez providing the width.
They changed to a 4-3-2-1 in their win over Mexico, with Gomez being replaced by Guido Rodriguez and Messi dropping back to the attacking midfielder spot, whilst Marcos Acuna and Alexis Mac Allister replaced Nicolas Tagliafico and Leandro Paredes respectively.
There was another change in the final group game with Poland, with Enzo Fernandez drafted into the side after his goal in the previous match, and Julian Alvarez replacing the misfiring Martinez. He partnered Di Maria up front.
An injury to Di Maria saw just the one change for the Round of 16 clash against Australia, with Papu Gomez replacing him, although during the match Argentina switched to a back five when Lisandro Martinez replaced Gomez and dropped into the defence.
Despite a late push from Australia, coach Lionel Scaloni liked what he saw, as he maintained that 3-5-2 shape for the quarterfinal match.
It worked very well for the most part against a Netherlands side whose fullbacks are very dangerous; with Acuna and Nahuel Molina situated high up the pitch to pin back the Dutch wingbacks — nullifying the threat posed — whilst also creating overlaps out wide. This was seen by Molina scoring the opening goal when he latched onto Messi’s magical assist.
However, both wing backs are out of the semifinal through suspension, which gives Scaloni a massive headache: does he persist with the new shape even if the replacement wing-backs may not be able to execute it as well, or does he change formation once again and hope he doesn’t derail momentum or team chemistry?
Argentina key players vs Croatia
Football fans and pundits have run out of superlatives to describe the great man, who may well be the greatest player of all time, so let’s just run through his highlights in this tournament alone.
He scored a penalty against Saudi Arabia and did his best to try and get his side back into the game after they went behind. Then, after a poor team first half against Mexico, he lifted them out of the dark with a fantastic goal from distance to kick start their World Cup.
Messi goal vs Mexico with Peter Drury commentary 🥵🥵😍😍😍
The only commentator who’s better than Peter Durry is GOD himself pic.twitter.com/0JrvgnNXdW
— Joojo🤩✨ (@im_xolali) November 26, 2022
Whilst he missed a penalty in the final group game against Poland, he then opened the scoring against Australia with a perfectly placed finish that went through a sea of defenders and past goalkeeper Maty Ryan.
Messi got his wonderful assist in the first half of the quarterfinal, before converting a penalty in the second to put his side 2-0 up. And despite his shaky penalty record, he stepped up and emphatically scored his spot-kick in the shootout to send Argentina on their way to victory.
It is very difficult to come up with a game plan to stop Messi that actually works — the little magician just needs one moment, one lapse of concentration to strike, and when that happens, it’s all over.
He may be one of this World Cups most divisive figures, but goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez has been worth his weight in gold for his country in the knockout stages so far.
In the Round of 16 match when a late Australia goal meant the Argentina backline was put under a mountain of pressure, Martinez not only collected cross after cross that helped slow the Australian momentum, but he also pulled off a miraculous stop from substitute Garang Kuol with the last kick of the match that denied a certain goal and preserved Argentina’s slender lead.
The way his teammates fell on top of him when he secured the ball showed how important it was and how much they valued his contribution.
Martinez came up big in the penalty shootout against the Netherlands six days later; he consistently attempted to put off the Dutch players who were taking the spot-kicks and was involved in acts of gamesmanship to get the upper hand. And it worked, as he made two saves to help Argentina win 4-3 on penalties.
Whilst his antics gained congratulations and criticism alike, these last two games have shown how valuable the Aston Villa shot-stopper will be in Argentina’s quest to win a first World Cup in 36 years.
Enzo Fernandez was not the most well-known Argentinian player before the tournament, but the Benfica midfielder has been highly impressive and put himself in the shop window of many big European clubs.
He came off the bench in the first two games, and scored a magnificent goal in the second against Mexico where he cut inside onto his right foot and unleashed a lethal shot into the roof of the net that sent the Argentinian players and fans into raptures.
He was elevated to the starting lineup for the next match against Poland, and vindicated his selection with an assist. He has been a constant in the side ever since.
Despite missing a penalty in the shootout against the Dutch, Fernandez has been a revelation in the midfield, with his dynamism, quality going forward and energy in chasing down the ball elevating an Argentinian midfield that wasn’t at its best in the opening matches — something that will be hugely important against a Croatia midfield that is world class.
It won’t be easy for Argentina against Luka Modric, Marcelo Brozovic and Mateo Kovacic, so the performances of Fernandez and his midfield colleagues will be crucial if they are to gain passage to the final.
Argentina predicted lineup vs Croatia
(4-3-3, right to left): 23. Martinez (GK) — 4. Montiel, 13. Romero, 19, Otamendi, 3. Tagliafico — 7. De Paul, 24. Fernandez, 20. Mac Allister — 10. Messi 9. Alvarez, 17. Gomez
With Acuna and Molina being suspended, we are predicting that coach Lionel Scaloni will revert to the 4-3-3 shape seen against Australia, as this suits the strengths of Tagliafico and Gonzalo Montiel.
Alejandro Gomez will also return to the side, as it appears that Angel Di Maria is still not fit enough to start, despite coming off the bench in extra time of the quarterfinal.
Argentina vs Croatia head to head
Argentina and Croatia have clashed five times before, including twice at the World Cup.
Their first World Cup meeting came in the group stages at the 1998 tournament, when Argentina came out as 1-0 victors thanks to a Mauricio Pineda strike that enabled them to top the group. Ironically, Croatia would end up progressing further than Argentina, making the semifinal whilst Argentina were eliminated in the stage prior.
Their other World Cup meeting came once again in the group stages, in Russia 2018 and this time with Croatia coming out on top.
It was a comprehensive win as Croatia blew away Argentina with three second-half goals to secure a 3-0 win that helped mark themselves as a team to beat in Russia. Argentina goalkeeper Willy Caballero made a huge mistake for one of the Croatian goals.
They have met three times more in friendlies, with the sides winning a game each and drawing the other one.
Argentina squad at WC 2022
|Position||No.||Player||Club||Age||Caps||Minutes at WC||Goals at WC||Assists at WC|
|GK||1||Franco Armani||River Plate (ARG)||36||18||0||0||0|
|GK||23||Emiliano Martinez||Aston Villa (ENG)||30||24||510||0||0|
|GK||12||Geronimo Rulli||Villarreal (ESP)||30||4||0||0||0|
|DEF||2||Juan Foyth||Villarreal (ESP)||24||16||0||0||0|
|DEF||25||Lisandro Martinez||Man United (ENG)||24||14||273||0||0|
|DEF||26||Nahuel Molina||Atletico Madrid (ESP)||24||25||392||1||1|
|DEF||4||Gonzalo Montiel||Sevilla (ESP)||25||21||88||0||0|
|DEF||19||Nicolas Otamendi||Benfica (POR)||34||98||480||0||1|
|DEF||6||German Pezzella||Real Betis (ESP)||31||34||53||0||0|
|DEF||13||Cristian Romero||Tottenham (ENG)||24||17||338||0||0|
|DEF||3||Nicolas Tagliafico||Lyon (FRA)||30||46||162||0||0|
|MID||8||Marcos Acuna||Sevilla (ESP)||30||48||318||0||1|
|MID||7||Rodrigo De Paul||Atletico Madrid (ESP)||28||49||426||0||0|
|MID||24||Enzo Fernandez||Benfica (POR)||21||8||353||1||1|
|MID||17||Alejandro ‘Papu’ Gomez||Sevilla (ESP)||34||17||109||0||0|
|MID||20||Alexis Mac Allister||Brighton (ENG)||23||12||353||1||0|
|MID||14||Exequiel Palacios||Bayer Leverkusen (GER)||24||22||31||0||0|
|MID||5||Leandro Paredes||Juventus (ITA)||28||49||144||0||1|
|MID||18||Guido Rodriguez||Real Betis (ESP)||28||27||57||0||0|
|FWD||9||Julian Alvarez||Man City (ENG)||22||17||290||2||0|
|FWD||16||Thiago Almada||Atlanta United (USA)||21||2||6||0||0|
|FWD||11||Angel Di Maria||Juventus (ITA)||34||128||226||0||1|
|FWD||21||Paulo Dybala||AS Roma (ITA)||28||34||0||0||0|
|FWD||15||Angel Correa||Atletico Madrid||27||22||0||0||0|
|FWD||22||Lautaro Martinez||Inter Milan (ITA)||25||45||221||0||0|
|FWD||10||Lionel Messi||PSG (FRA)||35||170||480||4||2|