Doha, Qatar – Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni on Monday said his team expects a tough World Cup semifinal game against Croatia, after the South American side’s exhausting and emotionally charged quarterfinal win over the Netherlands.
La Albiceleste, as Argentina’s side are known, will take on the Valtreni, the Croatian team, at the 89,000-capacity Lusail Stadium on Tuesday at 10pm (19:00 GMT) for a place in the final.
“We expect a tough match and it is against a really good team. They are a proper team and they play as a team,” Scaloni told reporters in a pre-match conference in Doha. “They are going to make things challenging for us.”
“They have a specific playing style. I don’t think they are going to change that. It is neither defensive nor attacking,” the former Argentine national team player said. “They have very good players. And they have a long-lasting football tradition.”
“We have our system and our style. We won’t change our style. We know they have excellent players. They have players that can hurt us. I won’t mention names,” Scaloni added.
Argentina have not had the easiest of routes to the semifinals. They were shocked by Saudi Arabia in their opening match, losing 2-1 to the Green Falcons. But they have upped their performances after the shock upset.
Since their opening game defeat, the South Americans have only conceded three goals in four matches. Against the Netherlands in the quarterfinals, they were 2-0 up after a Lionel Messi penalty. A brilliant defence-splitting pass from the Argentine captain had earlier set Nahuel Molina up for the first goal.
But the Netherlands launched an unlikely comeback, scoring two goals in the dying minutes of the game — their equaliser came in the 10th minute of added time.
The feisty game, which saw 17 players receiving yellow cards, went into extra time before the South Americans won 4-3 on penalties. Two-time champions Argentina will hope to avoid a repeat against opponents who have mastered the art of taking games deep and winning in extra time or penalty shootouts. Croatia have won five of their last six World Cup knockout games — in each case by taking the match beyond 90 minutes.
“We trust (Emiliano) Martinez so much,” Argentina defender Nicolas Tagliafico said. “But we can never be too calm regardless of having a really good goalkeeper.”
“You can practice penalty shootouts but once you are on the pitch with thousands of fans and emotions running high it is not the same,” he said.
The two teams have locked horns five times previously, with each side picking up two wins and the fifth game ending in a draw. That includes two encounters at the World Cup.
In 1998, Argentina beat Croatia 1-0. Two decades later, in 2018, Croatia got their revenge, beating La Albiceleste 3-0.
But both those games were in the group stages: On Tuesday the stakes will be higher than any the two sides have experienced while facing off against each other.
Croatia — if they win — would become the first back-to-back World Cup finalists since Brazil in 2002. But in Messi, Argentina have a player who can unlock any defence at any moment.
The seven-time Balon d’Or winner is eyeing his second World Cup final, after his team lost to Germany in 2014. The World Cup trophy is the only key title missing from his collection, which includes every big club and national team title.
“He is the one pushing us. He is the one motivating us,” Tagliafico, the left-back who plays in the French league for Lyon, said. “We are really lucky to have Messi as our captain.”