The 2022 World Cup has proven itself on the international stage despite justified criticism regarding host nation Qatar as the drama that has unfolded on the pitch for the first time in the Arab world has exceeded expectations.
For Croatia, a nation that entered the tournament as a finalist last time out, their winter campaign under Zlatko Dalić has proven its detractors wrong time and again after they emerged from a group that could now be billed as “the group of death” while outstripping Belgium and Canada before embarking on another knockout stage phase relying on extra time - and penalties - just as it did four years ago. Bouncing past Japan and shocking tournament favorite Brazil now views them as a nation fully capable of winning out.
As for Argentina, the Lionel Messi swan song is alive and well as Lionel Scaloni’s La Albiceleste are still in with a chance to lifting their earning World cup win - and first since 1986 - while finally seeing one of the greatest players to ever step on to a playing surface bag the one trophy that continues to elude an otherwise career for the ages. But Argentina continues to struggle to both see-out matches as well as remain mentally locked in across entire performances as evident in their opening loss to Saudi Arabia as well as switching off to let the Netherlands draw level to eventually force a penalty shootout. Despite those shortcomings, Messi has led from the front as one of the top overall performers in Qatar and is fully capable of willing Argentina to succeed.
With this in mind, 101 Great Goals takes a look at the best-combined XI from both nations.
Combined XI (4-3-3)
- Dominik Livaković (GK): Both Livaković and his opposite number Emi Martínez have proven themselves in penalty shootouts this tournament, but the Croatian number one has been streets ahead of the Argentine during the run of play.
- Josip Juranović (RB): Juranović has struggled in Qatar for Croatia. Never looked fantastic, and quite a few times he has been a weak link, but overall he has been solid. Certainly, he has outperformed Argentina’s options despite Nahuel Molina’s goal against the Netherlands.
- Nicolás Otamendi (CB): Looked suspect in certain moments in the tournament but overall he has rolled the clock back for Argentina this winter. It was a toss-up, however, with Dejan Lovren certainly deserving mention as he continues to perform for Croatia despite club form.
- Joško Gvardiol (CB): Not a breakout star given his prominence at RB Leipzig in the Bundesliga, but the young center-back has shown - often - why top clubs around Europe are courting him for a big move in the summer, with top dogs in the Premier league circling.
- Borna Sosa (LB): Long considered one of the better left-backs in the Bundesliga while at VfB Stuttgart, Sosa has proven to be much more than just a creative outlet at left-back while showing improved defensive qualities and added grit to his overall game.
- Marcelo Brozović (DM): Part of a midfield trio - along with Luka Modrić - that remains key for Croatia on the international stage. The Inter Milan midfielder is another animal in service of his country and has been vital as in a holding role ahead of the back line.
- Luka Modrić (CM): Ageless as ever. In what will be his last World Cup for Croatia and still on the hunt for an elusive first international trophy, the Real Madrid veteran star has been sublime once more while lasting deep into long-haul clashes.
- Alexis Mac Allister (CM): One of the unexpected breakout performers across the entire tournament, the versatile Brighton-based midfielder has earned his way into the preferred XI under Lionel Scaloni on merit. Arguably one of their best players against the Netherlands.
- Julián Álvarez (RW): Though he is often behind in the pecking order at Manchester City, Álvarez has jumped at the chance when being included in the XI and has looked every bit the part in a forward line alongside Messi, scoring twice this tournament as well.
- Ivan Perišić (LW): Used as a winger for his country instead of as a left wing-back at club level, Perišić has brought the same creativity, ability to drive play when on the ball, and intelligence shown for Tottenham and others across his club career.
- Lionel Messi (CF): Motivated by the chance to finally emulate Diego Maradona and win the World Cup in what will be his last chance at grabbing it with both hands, Messi has been one of the best players in Qatar, with his four goals and two assists as vital as ever.