Argentina go up against Croatia in the nation’s fifth World Cup semi-final on Tuesday evening.
Croatia are responsible for one of the heaviest defeats Argentina have suffered in World Cup history. As recently as the 2018 group stage, the Albiceleste slumped to a demoralising 3-0 defeat against the checkered foes. On only three prior occasions (against Germany in 2010, the Netherlands in 1974 and Czechoslovakia in 1958) had Argentina been beaten by a larger margin.
Here’s the XI Lionel Scaloni may deploy to not only avenge that defeat but reach a second World Cup final in eight years.
GK: Emi Martinez – Renewed his beastly reputation in penalty shootouts with two saves against the Netherlands – and an expletive-laden rant at the Dutch bench for good measure.
RB: Nahuel Molina – Lionel Messi’s pass will rightly be fawned over for years to come but Molina can treasure his well-taken goal; his first for Argentina.
CB: Cristian Romero – The buccaneering Tottenham centre-back has completed more dribbles than the spritely Julian Alvarez at this World Cup.
CB: Nicolas Otamendi – The ever-present in an Argentine backline which has conceded fewer shots than any other nation which got beyond the group stage.
LB: Nicolas Tagliafico – While Tagliafico is hardly a liability, the tenacity and drive brought by the suspended Marcos Acuna will be missed.
CM: Rodrigo De Paul – Argentina’s 1986 World Cup winners had so many superstitions Jorge Valdano likened it to “a play that had been performed a thousand times”. De Paul leads one of the rituals for the modern side, with players coming downstairs to drink their morning mate in a very specific order.
CM: Enzo Fernandez – With his dragged effort against the Netherlands, Fernandez became the first Argentinian to miss a penalty in a World Cup shootout since Esteban Cambiasso in 2006. Although he’s in good company as Hernan Crespo and Diego Maradona have also failed from 12 yards.
CM: Alexis Mac Allister – Brighton’s silky midfielder only made his competitive international debut in March but has wormed his way into each World Cup starting XI since sitting out the opening-game defeat to Saudi Arabia.
RW: Angel Di Maria – ‘Fideo’ – Noodle, as he is fondly known within the camp – has had to seek counsel from a psychologist after being deeply affected by online abuse in the past.
ST: Lionel Messi – No player at this World Cup has taken or created a larger proportion of their nation’s shots than Messi – who accounts for more than half (56%) of every chance Argentina have fashioned.
LW: Julian Alvarez – ‘El Aranita’ (The Spider) has had the nickname since his brother likened the dribbling style of a four-year-old Julian to an arachnid.
Harry Symeou hosts Andy Headspeath, Quentin Gesp and Jack Gallagher to look back on the 2018 World Cup finals in Russia – join us!
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