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World Cup: Argentina v Croatia semi-final preview

A spot in the World Cup final is on the line on Tuesday evening, as a Lionel Messi-led Argentina take on 2018 finalists Croatia at Lusail Stadium.

Argentina overcame the Netherlands in a penalty shootout last time out to reach the last-four stage for the first time since 2014, while Croatia also squeezed through on penalties when sending home pre-tournament favourites Brazil.

Paris Saint-Germain star Messi is still on course to lift the Jules Rimet trophy for the first time in what is his final World Cup, but the talismanic forward could be in for a rough ride against a Croatia side looking to go one better than their runners-up finish in Russia four years ago.

What: Argentina v Croatia
Where: Lusail Iconic Stadium, Lusail
When: 19:00, Tuesday 13th December
How to watch: BBC One
Odds: Argentina 5/6, Draw 23/10, Croatia 9/2

Fate on Argentina's side?

Argentina have won the World Cup twice, triumphing in 1978 and 1986, and there is a startling statistic from those two victories to the current team's quest for success in Qatar.

In the '78 edition, Mario Kempes, wearing the number 10 shirt, missed a penalty in the third group game before his side would eventually go on to win the World Cup.

Diego Maradona, sporting the number 10 on his back, did exactly the same thing in '86, fluffing his lines from 12 yards in the third group match before going on to lift the trophy.

Argentina's current number 10, Messi, missed a penalty in the third group game in Qatar. It's a remarkable coincidence that these three players, with the same number on their backs, all failed to convert a spot-kick at the exact same stage of their respective tournaments.

There is an argument to be made that the planets may all be aligning for La Albiceleste and that it is fate that Messi, in his final World Cup, manages to win the piece of silverware that has so far evaded him.

Argentina are 17/10 To Win Outright the event in Qatar. If they get past Croatia, a final showdown with either 11/10 France or 9/1 Morocco awaits.

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Croatia to spoil the party

While a large portion of the footballing world are willing Argentina to lift the trophy, Croatia will be doing all they can to throw a spanner in the works and make it to their second straight World Cup final.

Croatia made their World Cup debut in 1998, finishing an impressive third, before group-stage exits in 2002, 2006 and 2014 were then followed by a runners-up medal in 2018.

Vatreni lost out to France in Russia four years ago and there is every chance these two could be battling it out for glory once again on Sunday 18th December at Lusail Stadium.

There were doubts as to how far Zlatko Dalic's men could go in Qatar, given the fact some of their key players were supposedly past their best, but it is the old guard that have stood up and shone throughout the tournament.

Luka Modric, at the age of 37, has once again been an integral part of a midfield three that includes Mateo Kovacic and Marcelo Brozovic - there has arguably not been a better trio on show in the Middle East.

Dejan Lovren has formed a superb centre-back pairing with Josko Gvardiol, who has been attracting admiring glances from a number of clubs around Europe, while 33-year-old Ivan Perisic has been as reliable as ever on the left side of a front three.

Croatia are such a determined outfit and it's worth noting that they have conceded first in five of their last six knockout games at a World Cup before coming back to win (four on penalties and one in extra-time).

Vatreni don't mind taking things deep, as they have gone the distance in their last 16 and quarter-final ties in Qatar, so the 11/5 To Qualify is appealing, while the 9/1 To Win on Penalties is also worth considering.

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Twelve is the magic number

While this semi-final could be a cagey, nervous affair, there is every chance the officials could be called upon to make a big call, whether that is before or after VAR have got involved.

There have been some questionable penalties awarded in Qatar, while there have been some not given that looked certain to be, and the 5/1 on 'Argentina To Score a Penalty' is very tempting.

A total of 19 penalties have been awarded so far, and three of those have gone to La Albiceleste, with Messi converting two and missing one from 12 yards away.

Lionel Scaloni's side are full of quick-footed, tricky players and they have a habit of enticing opposing players into making silly challenges in the area.

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