On March 1, 2006, Luka Modric made his Croatian debut in a friendly against Argentina. On the same day, Lionel Messi scored his first goal for Argentina. Both will, over the next 16 years, grow to become the most important players on their national teams. Messi, a little further to become possibly the best footballer of his generation.
Modric and Messi will collect the greatest award for footballers: the Ballon d’Or, they will win trophies for their prestigious Spanish clubs and, most importantly, they will lead their teams to the World Cup final.
This Tuesday he will wear the captain’s armband again in the face-to-face semifinal between Croatia and Argentina at the Lusail Stadium to decide his pass back to the final. This will probably be the last game for one of them in the World Cup.
The last time they met, in the group stage matches of the 2018 World Cup in Russia, Modric scored refinement the 3-0 match against Messi’s Argentina.
Any outcome of the game will not come as a surprise as the highest drama of the match is expected. While Messi lifted his team from a loss against Saudi Arabia in the World Cup opener to kill the dreams of Australia and the Netherlands, Croatia knocked out World Cup favorites Brazil in the last game.
Croatia will try to do what they do best in the last five games of the tournament: take possession away from their opponents and play defense. They relinquished two draws in the group stage and finished second behind Morocco in the table.
They won the last two games on penalties, thanks to Dominik Livakovic’s sharp goalkeeping. Opposite him is Josko Gvardiol, the talented Croatian goalkeeper who dampened attacks from Brazil, Japan and Belgium. He will be in charge of hindering Messi’s long-awaited dream.
The European team is undefeated so far. Ivan Perisic on the left wing of the field is in charge of the attack for Croatia. Modric will pick up the ball from either side of the field and deliver it to the opponent’s penalty area.
If necessary, he will take things with his own legs and score.
“Modric is immortal. He is always ready, always prepared and always plays well. He is a game-changing player,” Carlo Ancelotti said of the Real Madrid and Croatia midfielder this summer.
For the Latin American team, it’s all about Messi. At least until penalties.
The seven-time Ballon d’Or winner is the leading candidate for the tournament’s best player. He has been fundamental, scoring and assisting when Argentina needs him the most. Even watching it on TV sends fans into a frenzy.
The Argentine coach, who shares Messi’s first name Lionel Scaloni, is a devoted supporter of the 35-year-old. That goes for most of his teammates, soccer critics, pundits and fans.
Columns are written for the world to give Messi a World Cup for his contributions to the game. But that’s not how things will work.
Although Messi gives his best in the opposite half, he is mostly absent in his team’s half. The responsibility of defending will fall on the other 10 in the blue jersey. They are happy with that role.
Then there are Di María, De Paul and Enzo Fernández who will control the midfield. María, like Messi, will be playing his last World Cup.
Otamendi will make sure that none of the Croatian’s moves happen to him to meet Emiliano Martínez. The goalkeeper is in a very good mood after saving Argentina’s World Cup dreams on penalties against the Netherlands.
Last game, Messi showed a different side of his personality, angrily confronting Oranje coach Louis van Gaal and stopping a post-match interview to yell at Dutch striker Wout Weghorst. He indicates that Messi is desperate since he carries on his shoulders the heaviest dream of his country.