Three First-Half Takeaways from Argentina-Croatia World Cup Semifinal

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Croatia are in real trouble.

Argentina took a 2-0 lead in the first half of their 2022 FIFA World Cup semifinal match on Tuesday behind goals from Lionel Messi and Julian Alvarez in the 34th and 39th minutes, respectively.

Argentina changed its starting lineup from the quarterfinal win over the Netherlands as manager Lionel Scaloni opted away from a three-man backline. La Albiceleste instead went with a 4-4-2 shape with Lisandro Martinez going back to the bench and Angel Di Maria still not fit enough to start.

Croatia started with an unchanged lineup from its upset win over Brazil, going with a 4-3-3 headlined by the midfield triumvirate of Luka Modric, Marcelo Brozovic and Mateo Kovacic.

Here are three takeaways from the first half:

Croatia makes the big mistake

The Vatreni got this far by doing what they do best: extend games as far as possible. They beat Japan and Brazil in the knockout stages by drawing it all the way out to a penalty shootout despite conceding first, but this time they allowed two goals before even grabbing one.

Croatia have only scored more than once in a game this tournament just… once. That came in a 4-1 win over Canada, but Argentina is a much bigger beast than Les Rouges. Croatia don’t have enough goal threats going forward and there’s the transition threat of Messi on the other end. It’ll take a valiant effort to come back.

Lionel Messi continues to shine

At 35 years old, Messi is now tied for first in the Golden Boot Award race. There’s just not enough superlatives left to describe him.

He added to his Qatar tally with a penalty won by Alvarez.

Despite Dominik Livakovic saving four penalties already in two knockout stage games, he had no chance at stopping Messi’s rocket into the top-right corner despite diving the right way.

Argentina getting the ball into key central areas

La Albiceleste have broken through Croatia’s defense by getting the ball in central zones of the attacking third, which was their key to winning this matchup. Alvarez did so when he won the first penalty, splitting the two Croatia center backs to open up a passing lane that led to Livakovic fouling him.

Then Alvarez repeated it when he made another strong run from midfield to the penalty box that led to the second goal. Even when Argentina haven’t scored, Messi has also looked much more threatening spinning in half spaces and turning up field than going on the flanks and getting in crosses. They’ll need to keep doing so in the second half.

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