Don't expect any man-marking of Messi in semi-final, say Croatia

By Reuters   December 11, 2022 | 06:41 pm PT
Don't expect any man-marking of Messi in semi-final, say Croatia
Argentina's Lionel Messi celebrates scoring their second goal at the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 quarterfinal with the Netherlands at Lusail Stadium, Lusail, Qatar, December 9, 2022 . Photo by Reuters/Kai Pfaffenbach
Croatia will not attempt to stop Argentina superstar Lionel Messi by man-marking him but instead will focus on immobilizing the entire team in their World Cup semi-final on Tuesday, they said.

Croatia are bidding to make it to the final for the second World Cup in a row after losing in the 2018 showcase match to France.

They stunned tournament favorites Brazil in the quarter-finals after going a goal down in extra-time but dug deep to bounce back with a late equalizer and force a penalty shootout that they ended up winning.

"We don't have a specific plan yet for stopping Messi and usually we don't concentrate on stopping one player but the entire team," striker Bruno Petkovic told a news conference on Sunday.

"We will try to stop them as a team and not with man-marking. Argentina are not only Messi, they have a number of great players. We have to stop the entire Argentina team," he said.

Seven-time Ballon D'Or winner Messi has so far been the driving force for the Argentines, who also needed penalties after squandering a two-goal lead against the Dutch in their quarter-final.

With no players suspended and no injury concerns following the return of Croatia defender Borna Sosa, Zlatko Dalic's team is brimming with confidence and ready for more.

Their midfield comprising captain Luka Modric, Mateo Kovacic and Marcelo Brozovic will be key to dictating the pace, as they did against Brazil, and defender Josip Juranovic said the three were utterly dependable.

"Mateo, Luka and Marcelo are the best Croatia midfield in history. I don't think it can be repeated. When you pass them the ball it is safer than having your money in the bank," the defender said.

Super-sub Petkovic scored the 117th-minute equalizer against Brazil to force penalties, with Croatia having now won all four of the shootouts they have taken part in at World Cups.

"I think many people who are not professional footballers can take successful penalties," Petkovic said. "The difference is how mentally tough you are. There is huge pressure you have never experienced before. But it also helps when you have a world class keeper."

Keeper Dominik Livakovic saved one spot kick against Brazil after also saving three in their Round of 16 shootout against Japan.

But it was Petkovic's dramatic equalizer after Brazil's extra-time lead that carried them to the shootout.

"I am becoming more and more aware of the magnitude of this goal with each passing day," Petkovic said. "Maybe I'll experience something similar in the semi-final or beyond."

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