Argentina vs. Croatia World Cup Semifinal Odds, Picks, Predictions (12/13/22)

We’re really getting towards the end now, aren’t we? Only four teams left vying for football’s greatest honor, the World Cup. There are teams here that many people expected would be here, like Argentina, who haven’t played nearly their best football but are led by a laser-focused living legend. They’ll be up against one of the relative surprises of the tournament, as Croatia have been viewed as underdogs throughout this tournament despite being the runners-up last time out. Will Messi and his squad get a step closer to the ultimate achievement that’s eluded them for so long, or will the 2018 finalists make it there again? Let’s take a look at the odds and make some picks for a match that will surely have the whole World’s attention.

Argentina vs. Croatia Odds

It’s a relatively lopsided one for a semifinal, as far as Vegas is concerned; Argentina are serious favorites to win in regulation, with a -125 line. The draw is set at +250, while Croatia are +400 to secure the match within 90. The goalscoring total is also pretty skewed in one way, with under 2.5 goals set as a -180 favorite.

Argentina vs. Croatia Prediction & Pick

Croatia seem to be allergic to winning in regulation, but they’re even more averse to being knocked out. They haven’t won a World Cup or Euro knockout match within regulation since 1998- but they also haven’t lost one in regular time during that period, except for the 2018 World Cup final. That’s right, nearly every Croatia knockout match for over two decades has made it past the 90th minute. In the earlier part of that timeframe, the 90-minute draw were largely followed by Croatia losses in the additional 30 or a shootout, but as of late, it’s worked out much better. Euro 2020 was a bit of an exception to the recent trend, but between Russia 2018 and this year’s tournament so far, Croatia have won by virtue of the extra 30 minutes once, and won a staggering four penalty shootouts, the most recent of which capped off a comeback victory against tournament favorites Brazil. This is the kind of success that you could rightfully point to as unsustainable, but Croatia’s players aren’t interested in probabilities; they’re playing hard, finding timely goals, and have absolutely mastered the art of the penalty shootout.

Argentina haven’t quite taken it to the same extreme as Croatia, but they’ve also had to sweat maybe more than their fans would appreciate in this tournament. They survived a late scare in what became an unsettlingly close 2-1 win over Australia in the Round of 16, and then weathered a near-disaster as they blew a 2-0 lead over the Netherlands in a match where a neutral observer would have sworn that the officials had been instructed to hand Argentina the win. They settled down to survive overtime and win the shootout, but the players were visibly frustrated during and after the match; there was very little celebrating, as the Albiceleste and anyone who’s watched them knows they need to do far more if they want to achieve their goals. If that’s going to happen, it just might end in a shootout again, but Argentina will want to avoid that result against a team that’s so used to such finishes to big matches.

Based on the two teams’ resumes in this tournament so far, and Croatia’s far beyond for that matter, it would be fairly irresponsible for me to pick anything other than the draw. Crazy streaks aside, Croatia are a solid unit in terms of defense and possession, and Argentina have been less than dominant; I don’t see how they pull away in this one. It may go a bit more without saying, but I also don’t see Croatia putting away one of the most-favored teams in this tournament in regulation, so I’m picking the draw. In terms of goalscoring, I do think Vegas has it right, the under is a pretty solid bet with these two teams who have hot keepers and are likely to be playing very measured, tentative football; don’t expect a wide-open end to end thriller, it’ll be more of a chess match then a boxing title fight.

Argentina vs Croatia Key Matchups

Will Argentina be able to control the midfield battle? Croatia the Argentinian attack? Check out the key matchups and mismatches for Argentina vs Croatia below.

The Midfield Battle

In a game that could very easily be decided by just a single opportunity, control of the ball is going to be absolutely massive. Let’s start with Argentina, where without true wingers, the midfield is largely responsible for chance creation in an attack based around the middle of the field. Benfica’s Enzo Fernández has been at the center of it all, and he contributed a very strong 120 minutes against the Netherlands, despite being the only Argentine player to miss his penalty in the shootout. He recovered possession a number of times, and even created a pair of chances. Breakout star Alexis Mac Allister also played the entirety of regulation and overtime, and he had a lively outing as well. Atletico Madrid star Rodrigo De Paul rounds out the trio, although he was limited to just under 70 minutes as he’s nursing an injury. Who stepped in to play what turned out to be essentially an equally long shift? That would be Leandro Paredes, who was mostly solid but also produced what should have been a tournament-losing moment for his country; nearing the 90th minute, Paredes lashed out both legs and put an absolutely reckless tackle on Nathan Aké. He then proceeded to smash the ball as hard as he possibly could directly at the Netherlands bench, which instigated a major scuffle. Paredes was booked for the tackle, but wasn’t given a second yellow for the kick; I’ve never seen a player get away with anything like that, so he’s extremely fortunate to not have sent his country down to 10 men for what ended up being around 40 more minutes of football.

It’s really hard to say anything about Luka Modric that hasn’t already been said. He’s been a star for Real Madrid for ages, delivering championship after championship, he rose to Ballon D’Or-level status as the engine of Croatia’s 2018 run, and here he is again, inching into his late 30s but still the centerpiece of another semifinal team. He was predictably excellent in the big win against Brazil, recovering possession 7 times and sending 22 passes into the final third; truly, it seemed like he was everywhere- and obviously he buried his penalty as well. He’s the brightest star, but still just one part of a very accomplished, veteran midfield. Chelsea’s Mateo Kovacic and Marcelo Brozovic of Inter Milan fame round out the trio, although it’s worth noting that neither quite made it to the end of the 120-minute marathon like the significantly older Modric did. Kovacic was a bit quiet against Brazil, but Brozovic had an excellent game, as he spent a really solid amount of time on the ball and racked up over 130 touches. The midfield is unquestionably the strongest group of Croatia’s roster, and it’s going to be a tall task for Argentina to compete with them enough to have the chances they need to win.

Argentina Attack vs. Croatia Defense

While the midfielders are certainly the stars of Croatia’s team, the defense has turned a lot of heads with its excellent play in this tournament. The praise has been specifically directed towards the men in the middle, the centre-back duo and the goalkeeper. We’ll start with the latter, Dominik Livakovic, who has earned legendary status with his penalty heroics. Between the Brazil and Japan shootouts, Livakovic faced 8 penalty shots, and just two went in. For an opportunity that should theoretically be converted around 75% of the time, that’s absolutely outrageous. During normal time, he hasn’t had as much work to do though, due to the outstanding performance of Josko Gvardiol and Dejan Lovren. The latter is a star on the rise, while the former is more realistically entering the twilight of his career, and their contrasting styles compliment each other perfectly; they’ve been an excellent duo, and their 120 minutes against Brazil were nothing short of heroic. The fullback duo of Josip Juranovic and Borna Sosa have been somewhat less lauded than the interior defenders, but they’ve done a good job as well, and Juranovic in particular has even had a bit of a role in the attack. This isn’t a superstar defense like some in this tournament, but they’ve been clutch when it counts, and will have to be at their very best against an elite attack if they want to reach a second consecutive final.

That elite attack is, as always, centered around none other than Lionel Andrés Messi, who is more or less 180 minutes away from cementing himself as surely the greatest footballer to ever live. He’s been great in this tournament, involved in nearly every Argentina goal as he’s finally broken into that elusive World Cup knockout goals scored category, as well as picking up some lovely assists. He’s been joined up top in a two-striker system by Man City youngster Julián Álvarez, who has had his moments but has been a bit uneven in his biggest role yet for his country. Similarly, polarizing Inter striker Lautaro Martinez has gotten some time in the lineup and in relief of Álvarez, and has been often wasteful with some really good opportunities. The names to watch that could shake things up would be Ángel Di María, who has been battling injuries and thus playing limited minutes, or Paulo Dybala, a serious creative talent who has also been injured but not seen any time at all. It’s hard to know injury statuses from the outside, especially in Dybala’s enigmatic case, but in the right spot, either one of these two could be the spark Argentina needs to get to the top.

From starting my own blog in Middle School, to working on a friend’s in college, and finally joining the Lineups team this year, I’ve been writing about sports for over a decade and betting on them as long as I’ve been legally able. I graduated from the University of Michigan last year, where I took sports journalism classes alongside my business major. Having played and watched sports for almost my whole life, I aim to provide insight and entertainment, as well as profitable picks, in my writing about professional and collegiate leagues.

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