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World Cup: Can Lionel Messi inspire Argentina again?

Are the stars really aligning for Lionel Messi to finally taste World Cup success or can Croatia emulate what they achieved against Brazil in the quarter-final and upset another South American giant?

Messi is considered one of the greatest footballers of all-time but if he is going to strengthen his case in the argument of being the best ever then winning the World Cup is surely imperative.

The Paris St-Germain sensation came ever so close to winning the showpiece event when his team lost in the final to Germany in extra-time in Brazil in 2014.

How much Messi would love a second bite of the cherry but this is last chance saloon for the 35-year-old magician, who is in the twilight of his career.

Argentina are 4/11 To Qualify from their semi-final showdown with Croatia, who are 11/5 to reach back-to-back World Cup finals after finishing runner-up in Russia four years ago.

La Albiceleste are 15/8 to be crowned champions, while talisman Messi, who has four tournament goals, is 11/8 for the Golden Ball.

What: Argentina v Croatia, World Cup semi-final
Where: Lusail Iconic Stadium, Lusail, Qatar
When: Tuesday 13th December
How to watch: BBC One 7pm
Odds: Argentina 3/4, Draw 23/10, Croatia 9/2

Could it be fate in Messi's swansong?

Argentina have twice won the World Cup - in 1978 and 1986 - and how magic it would be if Messi could inspire them to another success 36 years on from their last triumph in Mexico.

Interestingly, on both occasions that they won the World Cup, the player wearing the number 10 shirt missed a penalty in the third group game. It was Mario Kempes who squandered a spot-kick in 1978 while it was the turn of Diego Maradona eight years later.

And those who believe in fate will be thinking it's Argentina's World Cup to lose after current number 10 Messi saw his penalty saved by Poland shot-stopper Wojciech Szczesny in their third and final group assignment.

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It had little impact on the outcome as Argentina went on to beat the Poles 2-0 and seal their progress as group-winners. And Messi has since made amends from 12 yards, netting a penalty in regulation time against the Netherlands and then again as Argentina won the penalty shootout.

So is the script already written and Messi will get the fairytale ending his barnstorming career deserves?

Messi is 3/1 to open the scoring in the semi-final with Croatia and, having already netted four goals in Qatar, is 11/8 to add to that tally by scoring at any time.

La Albiceleste's remarkable run continues

Despite taking the lead through Messi, Argentina lost their opening game in Group C to section minnows Saudi Arabia, putting them sharply on the backfoot.

However, Lionel Scaloni's men responded with 2-0 wins over Mexico and Poland, which enabled them to progress as group winners.

In their opening knockout tie, it was another efficient performance as they defeated Australia 2-1 and it looked like being the same in their quarter-final against the Netherlands until a frenetic finish.

Argentina were 2-0 up and seemingly in cruise control with 83 minutes on the clock of that contest before a Wout Weghorst brace, the second of which came 11 minutes into injury-time.

La Albiceleste did keep their composure to win the penalty shoot-out that followed while Croatia also prevailed on penalties in their quarter-final win over Brazil.

Some more spot-kick drama can't be ruled out and Argentina are 9/1 to win the tie on penalties, with Croatia a 10/1 chance.

Scaloni's side, who have lost only one of their last 41 internationals, are 3/4 to win inside 90 minutes and 9/1 for an extra-time success.

Croatia hoping to spoil the party

Standing in Argentina's way are Croatia, who are bidding to make successive World Cup finals after their heroics in Russia four years ago.

It would be a remarkable achievement for a country of Croatia's size to make back-to-back finals and, after stunning Brazil in the quarter-final, they have their eyes set on claiming the scalp of another South American heavyweight.

In what is also a final World Cup for former Ballon d'Or winner Luka Modric, Croatia are 8/1 to go one better than they managed against France in 2018.

Interestingly, three of Croatia’s four knockout games in Russia four years ago ended as draws and a similar scenario has happened in Qatar with four of their five matches finishing level after 90 minutes.

Croatia's quarter-final with Brazil was won on penalties, as was Argentina's last-eight encounter with the Netherlands, and it is 23/10 for another 90-minute draw in this semi-final.

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