FIFA World Cup 2022: How Argentina and Croatia can gain an edge in this semi-final chess match – tactical preview
Hysterical and a spike in adrenaline, football is so great. Friday was an unbelievable day in World Cup history with two big epics from Argentina and Croatia. The Croatians will face the Argentines in the Lusail Stadium on Tuesday.
La Albiceleste eventually reached the 2022 Qatar World Cup semi-finals after a 120-minute marathon and a penalty shootout. In spite of Holland’s late comeback, the dream is still alive.
On the other side, Croatia had pulled off a memorable upset and won yet another World Cup penalty shootout, kicking Brazil out. A country of four million people and no World Cups just beat a country of 214 million with five World Cups to reach their second straight semi-final in the competition.
This tactical analysis will provide an analysis preview of the first semi-final, illustrating the critical tactical factors of the two nations that may influence the outcome. So, let’s dig into the tactics.
News & predicted XI
Argentina will enter the match suffering from the absences of Marcos Acuna and Gonzalo Montiel and there are some worries about the fitness of Juventus player Angel Di Maria. Papu Gomez also is a doubt with an ankle knock that kept him out of the quarter-final.
Former Ajax full-back Nicolas Tagliafico should come in on the left side of the defence and Nahuel Molina can continue on the right. Scaloni may opt for a four or five-man backline which could depend on Di Maria’s physical form. Returning to a 4-3-3, with Di Maria and Julian Alvarez flanking Lionel Messi may cost Manchester United star Lisandro Martínez his position.
Zlatko Dalić is expected to minimise the changes against Argentina. Croatia have no injury worries to speak of heading into this match. Borna Sosa has returned to start at left back and Mario Pašalić has returned to the right-wing whilst Andrej Kramarić has been pushed to be the proper number ‘9’. Bruno Petković also may be awarded a starting spot after he scored from the bench late on against Brazil.
Predicted Argentina XI (3-5-2): Emiliano Martinez; Nahuel Molina, Cristian Romero, Nicolas Otamendi, Lisandro Martinez, Nicolás Tagliafico; Enzo Fernández, Rodrigo De Paul, Alexis Mac Allister; Lionel Messi, Julián Álvarez.
Predicted Croatia XI (4-3-3): Dominik Livaković; Josip Juranović, Dejan Lovren, Joško Gvardiol, Borna Sosa; Marcelo Brozović, Mateo Kovačić, Luka Modrić; Ivan Perišić, Mario Pašalić, Andrej Kramarić.
Whichever structure Lionel Scaloni adopted, his narrow 4-3-3 shape or the pure 3-5-2, there were some ideas Argentina tried from the beginning of the tournament. The team had suffered largely against compact defensive structures, but whether it was available for Messi and his teammates, they showed us their positional play and the intention to search for superiority and create space between the lines on the right half-space with a vertical spin between Messi and de Paul.
This positional play was noticeable against Poland in the group stage and in the quarter-finals match despite the diversity of the opposition’s defensive plans.
In the above image, Messi and De Paul had left their positions and moved right to overload which produced a space behind the midfield that could be exploited by a dynamic 1-2 combination or by the dropping-off striker Álvarez who intended to exploit it. Also, the overloading offered Molina room to overlap behind the backline while his marker was busy with Messi.
The image below is also a scene from the Netherlands’ game. Implementing 3-5-2 gives the right center-back Cristian Romero more involvement in the play. Here, he overloaded the flank, meanwhile, Molina had pushed up.
Furthermore, the vertical rotation between de Paul and Messi offered Messi space to receive to create from a deeper position without any noise. You know almost his traditional long diagonal pass to the LB that overlaps in the blindside of the opponent FB as if he had received the ball here.
Argentina’s first goal was an embodiment of the same idea of a dynamic rotation between Messi, de Paul, and Molina that created a dilemma and unbalance for the backline.
The Barcelona great successfully received the ball with a good body direction and Ake stepped higher to react. Consequently, Molina did a diagonal deep run attacking the space exploiting his action, and then received a brilliant pass from Messi and scored.
Before Scaloni went to 3-2-5, he applied the same idea with his 4-3-3, notably in the Poland game.
As said earlier, positional play searches for superiority in a numerical, positional, or dynamic sense.
Here Leo Messi’s dropping off had provoked Poland’s midfielder to step higher to press him meanwhile De Paul moved to the produced space. On the other side, off-the-ball movements from Marcos Acuña and Julián Álvarez made it 2v1 against the opponent’s FB and Acuña was ready to overlap to receive.
Based on all this, Croatia’s defensive block will need a lot of work in depth and width to deal with these ideas, armed with the Saudi Arabia and Australia matches as models.
Veteran team regains fluidity and solidity
Croatia’s qualifying for this advanced stage was not expected, much because the team seemed to lose its power. This generation of Croatia had always players in midfield capable of ball spinning, quick circulation, and penetration which always breaks the opposition’s stability but they forfeited this agility at times.
Marcelo Brozović, Mateo Kovačić, and Luka Modrić versus Brazil had tried to add more fluidity to the midfield through dynamic rotations that revive the team and retrieve some of their shine.
Croatia used to progress and penetrate with a 2-3 base which became more dynamic to bypass the pressure. Here, in the upcoming figure. is a rotation between the three midfielders.
Mateo Kovačić dropped off with the ball which dragged the opponent, and then Marcelo Brozović moved to the produced space, meanwhile, Luka Modrić moved to be an extra passing option. This mechanism gave the wingers the ability to engage both interior corridors and allowed the fullback to overlap. Thus, Kovačić played a long ball behind the backline to the overlapping Juranović.
Here is another execution of the same idea. Modrić moved to the other side to open a passing lane which created a space. Then Croatia applied a third-man combination in the situation of Borna Sosa stretching the line and overlapping.
The scene continues and the left-winger Ivan Perišić had moved to the half-space, then moved forward and intended to receive in behind.
This engaging to the interior corridors, Croatia was missing it, especially in the right one in the last matches.
This world cup was amazing in introducing some brilliant players. One of them was definitely Joško Gvardiol who has very pleasing defensive contributions and also has satisfactory forward progressive dribble, runs, and passes.
Regarding solidity, Zlatko Dalić’s team used to stay in 4-5-1 mid or low blocks. They will need more compactness against Argentina.
Our analysis shows both the last two World Cup runners-up’s tactical ideas which might play a crucial part in the outcome of the game. Any slipups in the semi-final are unacceptable.
A big factor to keep an eye on is fatigue as both teams played thirty minutes of extra time in the quarter-finals.
Croatia is making history to reach this level again after an incredible previous World Cup where they lost against the eventual world champions France after Argentina itself were eliminated in the Last-16 round by the same France side.
And the question remains; if Argentina vs Croatia goes to penalties, who saves more? Dominic Livakovic or Emiliano Martinez?
Argentines are proud to have Lionel Messi, and Croatians are proud to have Luka Modrić. In their last World Cup, who will lead their people to the final?