In hindsight, it feels a little bit silly to have thought that it was ever going to be anyone other than Lionel Messi and Argentina coming out of this first semifinal victorious. Croatia are a good team, they deserved to reach the 2018 World Cup Final, and they deserved to reach this semifinal. This Argentina squad, though, with this version of Messi driving them forward, feels like something more inevitable than destiny. They are no Team of Destiny, ordained or prophesied by an oracle or soothsayer, they are a Team of Destruction. All things end, die and decay, reduced to little more than a memory of what they once were, and in this tournament, Messi’s final World Cup, Argentina are that unavoidable force.
Or maybe they’re not? Who knows! We’ll soon learn whether Morocco or France will provide Argentina their final challenge. However it all ends, we’ll be blessed with a great story to tell, and hopefully another excellent game to close out the tournament. First, though, France will fight for their chance to become only the third ever back-to-back men’s World Cup champions, while Morocco strive to become the first ever African or Arab World Cup finalists — and maybe even the first-ever champions.
Luka Modrić in his ongoing battle against Father Time: Croatia may have found themselves on the wrong side of Lionel Messi’s unstoppable orchestrations, but Luka Modrić was still a shining point of defiance. At 37, Modrić is the age where commentators and pundits tend to discuss players as if they’re mostly blind dogs with as many terminal illnesses as teeth remaining in their mouths. Nevertheless, he could be seen making 90-yard sprints to break up Argentinian attacks and springing Croatian ones throughout his 81 minute performance. Modrić had 93 touches, more than all but one other player on the entire field (Mateo Kovacic had 109 touches), and while he couldn’t help his team find a goal, he made good use of each touch. He went 4/4 on attempted dribbles, created 2 chances, and was 3/5 on crosses and long passes.
His defense was no different, going 2/2 on tackles and winning 9/10 duels, while also claiming 6 recoveries. Who knows how much longer Modrić will choose to grace the pitch and our TV screens with his presence, but at this rate he could seemingly play at a high level for as long as there are people left to play with him.
All who stand between Leo Messi and the World Cup trophy: Messi got the scoring started for Argentina in the 34th minute, smashing home a penalty earned by Julián Álvarez. Once again, though, the greatest bit of brilliance from Argentina’s maestro wasn’t a goal of his own, but rather an absolutely outrageous assist. Instead of an audacious assist that surely proves his omniscience on the football pitch, this time it was a ridiculous run during which he beat talented young Croatia and RB Leipzig centerback Josko Gvardiol physically, mentally, and probably spiritually. He beat him with pace and a dribble on the wing, then when Gvardiol caught him again at the box, Messi danced around him and made his way to the end line where he muscled the defender off of him before sliding the ball to the awaiting Álvarez to hit home and put the game away.
Messi could seemingly still win games on his own, but in this Argentina side he’s got an impressive array of tools at his disposal, and he seems happy to use every last one of them like a master craftsman. He’s creating something that will live on much longer than any one man, and if you get in his way you’ll only end up as material in his masterpiece.
Storylines to watch in the second semifinal
11:00 AM - France vs. Morocco: At this point, unless you’re French — and honestly, even then I’m sure there are some exceptions — you’re probably hoping to see Morocco keep their run going. They’ve already become the first African team to reach this point of the tournament and they’ve beaten Portugal and Spain along the way, so why shouldn’t they go on to the Final and win the whole thing? There should be a fair amount of familiarity on the field between the two teams, as there are multiple teammates on either side of the pitch and many more who face each other regularly in league play. Will that help Morocco to negate France’s potent attack? We’ll soon find out.
Watch the game on Fox, Telemundo, or streaming on FoxSports.com and Peacock.
You can catch replays of all games in English on TubiTV.com or Spanish on Peacock 30 minutes after the final whistle.