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Argentina – Croatia in the semi-finals of the World Cup 2022: Episode 29 of the Messi-Modric duel

Luka Modric’s first match for Croatia was against Argentina in a friendly on 1 March 2006, which the former Yugoslavians won 3-2. But the same match is important in another respect. In the same match, Leo Messi scored his first goal for Argentina, having made his debut six games earlier and, in his third match, against Peru, he had his first assist.

Lionel Messi and Luka Modric are two of the greatest players to ever grace the world football stage, and now they are set to captain their nation to a 2022 FIFA World Cup semi-final.

At the national teams level, Modric is 2-1 ahead of Messi

With Modric in the team, Croatia has played Argentina twice: 2006 friendly, won 3-2, and, most recently, a 2018 World Cup group stage match, won by the former Yugoslavians 3-0. In that match, Modric even scored one of the three goals. Since Modric’s debut for Croatia in 2006, the two national teams have met only once before, in 2014, in a friendly won 2-1 by the South Americans, but Modric was not in the squad then. Instead, Messi was there, and he scored then, for 2-1 from the penalty spot.

Historically, five matches have been played between the two national teams: three friendlies and two World Cup matches. Twice Croatia won (once at the 2018 World Cup), twice Argentina won (once at the 1998 World Cup) and once it was a draw. The head-to-head record between Modric and Messi, however, at this level, is 2-1 for the Croatian so far in wins and 1-1 in goals scored.

So the Croatia-Argentina duel in the semi-finals of the World Cup in Qatar has increased significance for both national team leaders. Two Ballon d’Or winners who have long been on opposite sides of football, from Modric’s move to Real Madrid in 2012 to Lionel Messi’s departure from Barcelona in 2021. During that time, the two have contested La Liga titles, Spanish Cup trophies and shared some iconic sporting moments in the great El Clasico rivalry that would keep viewers riveted.

The last direct duel, won by the Croatian

But you can’t run away from rivalries – and although he wore the jersey of new club Paris Saint-Germain, Messi met Modric once before when Real Madrid and PSG met in the Champions League 21/22.

Modric has already beaten Messi in last season’s UEFA Champions League, when Real Madrid eliminated PSG en route to winning the trophy. The Croatian had an assist in the return leg of the ‘last 16’, which Madrid won 3-1 after PSG had won 1-0 in the first leg.

Let’s now talk about the 9 years in which the two have been adversaries in La Liga and beyond, in the jerseys of Real Madrid and FC Barcelona. Since his arrival at Real in 2012, Modric has played 27 matches against Barcelona, with a positive record: 12 wins, 5 draws, 10 defeats. In all of these encounters, however, Modric has managed one goal scored and two assists.

Modric vs. Messi at Real and Barcelona: an extra win for the Croat

How many of those, though, were against an opposition team that also featured Leo Messi? If we eliminate the direct matches between Real Madrid and Barcelona played after the Argentine’s departure in 2021, that leaves 24 “direct” matches, in which Modric has the following record: 10 wins, 5 draws, 9 defeats.

Messi has 47 matches against Real Madrid, the opponent he has met most times in his career. The Argentinian’s record is positive: 20 wins, 16 losses, 11 draws. Leo scored 26 times against the Galacticos and provided 14 assists.

Messi’s only clear winner: goals and assists in direct matches

But not in all 47 games played he had Modric as an opponent, but only in the 24 mentioned earlier, where Leo’s record is negative: 9 wins, 5 draws, 10 defeats. However, even so, the Argentinian has scored 13 goals and 4 assists against Modric in those 24 games.

So, if we take an overall balance, the two super footballers have met 24 times in Real Madrid-Barcelona duels, twice in Real Madrid-PSG duels and twice in Croatia-Argentina matches. That’s a total of 28 direct matches, with the following record: 13 Modric wins, 10 Messi wins, 5 draws. In terms of goals and assists, Messi wins overall clearly also: 14 goals, 4 assists, while Modric has 3 goals and 3 assists.

The match on 13 December, therefore, in the semi-finals of the World Cup in Qatar, is the 29th between the two wearers of the number 10 on the shirt. Who will win?

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