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Will Argentina reach a sixth World Cup Final, or can Croatia take down another heavyweight and get there again?
Argentina featured in a sixth World Cup penalty shootout on Friday night, with their excellent record continuing; they’ve now won five.
La Albiceleste looked set to cruise past Netherlands, leading 2-0, thanks to Nahuel Molina’s opener and then Lionel Messi’s emphatic penalty.
However, Holland got back into it before, in the 11th minute of injury time, equalising with a well-worked set-piece routine.
In total, 18 yellow cards were shown by referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz, breaking the World Cup record, but a penalty shootout was needed to separate the two sides.
As was the case in last year’s Copa América, Emi Martínez was the spot-kick hero, saving Holland’s first two spot-kicks.
Messi, Leandro Paredes and Gonzalo Montiel all scored so, when Lautaro Martínez fired home, Argentina could celebrate.
La Albiceleste are desperate to win the World Cup for Messi, so will the seven-times Ballon d’Or winner be lining-up in a second final on Sunday?
Croatia meantime, who featured in the most-recent final in 2018, have already caused one huge upset this week, so will believe another is certainly possible.
On Friday, Zlatko Dalić's team contained tournament-favourites Brazil, holding them to a goalless draw at Education City Stadium.
However, the Blazers looked dead and buried when, right at the end of the first half of extra time, Neymar’s amazing solo goal made the breakthrough.
They weren’t done there though because, in the 117th minute, Bruno Petković's deflected shot found its way in, thereby forcing penalties.
Dominik Livaković saved Brazil’s first, with Nikola Vlašić, Lovro Majer, Luka Modrić and Mislav Oršić all converting.
So, by the time Marquinhos’ effort struck the post, Brazil were out and Croatia had done it.
Amazingly, this century, eight of Croatia’s nine knockout games have gone to extra time, the sole exception being the 2018 final.
So, those inside Lusail Iconic Stadium should be prepared for 120 minutes, perhaps even longer, but who will be returning to Lusail for Sunday’s final?
Argentina team news
Full-backs Marcos Acuña and Gonzalo Montiel are both suspended, due to yellow card accumulation.
This means Nicolás Tagliafico will come in on the left, with Friday’s goal-scorer Nahuel Molina keeping his place on the right.
Lionel Scaloni switched to a back three in that match, thereby matching-up Netherlands, but will revert to a 4-2-3-1 here; Lisandro Martínez would therefore drop out.
In his place, Ángel Di María only came on for eight minutes, suggesting he isn’t fit at all, so Papu Gómez is likely to rejoin the attack.
Julián Álvarez’s goals against Poland and Australia will see him lead the line, chosen over Lautaro Martínez.
Captain Lionel Messi’s first-ever international goal came against Croatia, in a friendly in 2006, also netting against them at the Boleyn Ground of all places eight years later.
Predicted XI (4-4-1-1): Martínez; Molina, Romero, Otamendi, Tagliafico; De Paul, Fernández, Mac Allister, Papu Gómez; Messi, Álvarez.
Croatia team news
Zlatko Dalić doesn’t have any suspensions to concern him, whilst also enjoying a clean bill of health.
At this tournament, the majority of Croatia’s XI has remained unchanged, with the right-winger position the only one up for grabs.
Mario Pašalić, who was excellent against Brazil, could keep his place, chosen over Nikola Vlašić, Marko Livaja or Bruno Petković.
Dominik Livaković has become the first goalkeeper in World Cup history to save 4+ penalties in shootouts at the same edition.
Skipper Luka Modrić will win his 161st international cap; only 21 men in the history of the game have more.
He scored a spectacular long-range strike when Croatia hammered Argentina 3-0 in Nizhny Novgorod at the most-recent World Cup; how they’d love a repeat of that.
Predicted XI (4-3-3): Livaković; Juranović, Lovren, Gvardiol, Sosa; Brozović, Kovačić, Modrić; Pašalić, Kramarić, Perišić.
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