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Messi and Modric take Argentina and Croatia to World Cup semi-finals

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DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Tears flow from soccer’s biggest superstars as they emotionally leave what could be their last World Cup.

First it was Neymar. Then it was Cristiano Ronaldo. Could Lionel Messi be next?

Momentum is building behind Messi’s push to cap his career with the game’s biggest prize. the man Messi is so often compared to – led the South American nation to their second and most recent World Cup title in 1986.

Now in Argentina’s way is Croatia, a country of 4 million who are establishing themselves as the most stubborn and enduring opponent while boasting one of the most graceful players. football to Luka Modric.

The teams face off at Lusail Stadium – also the venue for Sunday’s final – in a meeting between the tournament’s last two finalists: Argentina in 2014 and Croatia in 2018.

One would have expected Argentina to be in this position. The team arrived at the World Cup as Copa America champions, on a 36-game unbeaten run and with Messi back in sublime form for Paris Saint-Germain.

There was much less noise around the Croatians, but they continue to surprise like four years ago when their run to the final included a 3-0 victory over Argentina in the group stage. They also reached the semi-finals of the World Cup in 1998.

Both teams have been through some uncomfortable times. Argentina’s darkest spell came early in the tournament, following a 2-1 loss to Saudi Arabia in what will go down as one of the biggest upsets of the World Cup.

Inspired by Messi and one of Qatar’s staunchest fans, Argentina won their last two group games, ended up beating Australia 2-1 in the round of 16, then demanded penalties to overtake the Netherlands in a wild quarter-final match.

Messi now has four goals in the tournament in Qatar, leaving him one behind top scorer Kylian Mbappé. They are probably the two most notable players in a World Cup which has seen many other top players live up to their excellent reputation.

Modric is a good example.

He may not have scored a goal. He didn’t even have an assist. But don’t underestimate the importance to Croatia of the little magician who turns things around in midfield and manages to assert some control for a side that is fighting until the last minute.

In 2018, each of Croatia’s knockout matches ended in extra time before the team lost to France in the final, and the same is happening in Qatar, with penalty shootout wins over Japan. in the round of 16 and Brazil in the quarter-finals.

Croatia seemed more comfortable against Brazil than against Japan, which shows that the team could be happier inviting pressure and choosing their moments to advance rather than controlling games and being more susceptible to counterattack.

Containing Messi will be key and much of the blame lies with the detention of midfielder Marcelo Brozovic, who shielded the Croatian defense so well against Brazil.

Argentina will be without two players through suspension: left-back Marcos Acuña and right-back Gonzalo Montiel. Acuña is the biggest miss, having impressed since joining the team after the loss to Saudi Arabia, and he is likely to be replaced by Nicolás Tagliafico.

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Follow Steve Douglas on Twitter at https://twitter.com/sdouglas80

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AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Argentina’s Lionel Messi celebrates after scoring Argentina’s second goal during the World Cup quarter-final soccer match between Netherlands and Argentina at Lusail Stadium in Lusail, Qatar on Friday Dec. 9, 2022. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

Messi and Modric take Argentina and Croatia to World Cup semi-finals

Croatia’s Luka Modric celebrates after the World Cup quarter-final soccer match between Croatia and Brazil, at Education City Stadium in Al Rayyan, Qatar, Friday, Dec. 9, 2022. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)

Messi and Modric take Argentina and Croatia to World Cup semi-finals

Argentina’s Lionel Messi scores a penalty during the World Cup quarter-final soccer match between the Netherlands and Argentina, at Lusail Stadium in Lusail, Qatar on Saturday, Dec. 10, 2022. (AP Photo/ Jorge Saenz)



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