In 1998 and 2018, when they achieved the best results in the history of the national team at the World Cup, Croatia met Argentina each time. Now, the duel is repeated in the first semi-final of the tournament in Qatar.
Everyone was waiting for the big semi-final between South American rivals Brazil and Argentina. And when Neymar opened the scoring in extra time against Croatia in the quarter-finals, it seemed that the duel everyone wanted would happen. Up to that point, the Croatians hadn’t even shot into Alisson’s goal area. But when they did, in the 117th minute, they managed to equalize, through Bruno Petkovic. It went to a penalty shoot-out, where Dominik Livaković saved Rodrygo’s shot, then Marquinhos hit the bar, sending the Selecao out of the competition.
For the second time in a row, Croatia reaches the semifinals of the World Cup. The pattern of 2018 repeats itself in 2022. Matches with extra time and possibly penalty kicks. Where some see more luck, most see a determined team that never gives up and always finds a solution when everything seems to be going against them. It is probably no coincidence that the image of this exceptional generation of Croatia is Luka Modric. At 37 years old, the Real Madrid midfielder continues to play sensationally, with the same hunger as 10-15 years ago. His track record is full of performances, both with the teams he played for and individually.
In fact, the duel between the captains Modric and Leo Messi will be one of the highlights of the semi-final at the Lusail Iconic Stadium. It was the Croatian who, in 2018, put an end to the monopoly that the Messi-Cristiano Ronaldo tandem established over the Ballon d’Or. The Argentine then responded by winning the next two editions. Also worth watching will be the duel between the goalkeepers, Livaković and Emiliano Martínez, decisive for their teams in the elimination stages.
Of course, one of the things we learned during the World Cup in Qatar is that history, form and pedigree count too little, especially in the knockout games, but the Croatians will surely also appeal to tradition ahead of the semi-final against Argentina . And tradition says that when the Croatians play against the argentinian national team at the World Cup, they get a historic result. The first time happened at the very debut of Croatia in the world’s number 1 competition.
In France in 1998, the two teams were part of the same group. They met on June 26, in Bordeaux, in the final stage. First place was at stake as they both predictably won their matches against Japan and South Africa. Mauricio Pineda scored the goal that gave the South Americans a 1-0 win as Croatia finished in second place. Finally, the fantastic generation of Davor Suker, Zvonimir Boban, Robert Prosinečki, Aljoša Asanović or Robert Jarni, led from the bench by Miroslav Blažević, placed 3rd in the World Cup, after eliminating Romania, Germany and lost the semi-final against the future champion, France. In the minor final, the Croatians beat the Netherlands 2-1. Meanwhile, Argentina exited the tournament in the quarter-finals, knocked out by Dennis Bergkamp’s memorable goal in Marseille.
It was 20 years before Croatia and Argentina met again at the World Cup. In 2018, they were also part of the same group. But on June 21, 2018, in Nizhny Novgorod, the scenario was different than two decades before. The Europeans won and they did it excitingly. It was 3-0, with goals from Ante Rebic, Modric and Ivan Rakitic. Mordic’s goal in particular remained anthological: a sensational shot from outside the box, one of the executions of the World Cup in Russia. The Croatians won the group with the highest points, then eliminated Denmark, Russia and England to play in the final against France. “Les Bleus”, who passed the Argentines in the eighths, ended Croatia’s dream of glory.
Now in Qatar, Croatia and Argentina play against each other for the first time in a match where there really is no room for missteps. A defeat cannot be repaired later, it means the end of a dream. Much has been said about the “Last Dance” for Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, but the same is true for Modric. The tireless midfielder trying to once again lead his national team to a new best ever World Cup result. And, once again, standing in his and his teammates’ way is Argentina.