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Messi, Modric face off as Argentina, Croatia seek World Cup final spot

All eyes will be on the cavernous Lusail Stadium, where Lionel Messi, 35, will attempt to guide Argentina into the final for the second time in eight years against the beaten finalists in 2018.

Argentina and Messi face Croatia on Tuesday in the first World Cup semi-final that pits South American flair against the guile of Luka Modric and the remarkable fighting spirit of the Balkan nation.

The winner will play either France or Morocco, who square off in the second semi-final on Wednesday, in the final.

Messi, who suffered defeat to Germany in the 2014 final, is desperate to crown an extraordinary career by finally winning the World Cup and emulating another Argentinian legend, the late Diego Maradona.

The Paris Saint-Germain forward was a pivotal figure in Friday’s stormy quarter-final win over the Netherlands, when a record 18 yellow cards were shown, and players from both sides were involved in a melee as the referee fought to regain control.

Even the normally mild-mannered Messi was caught up in the bad blood, shouting abuse at Dutch players while being interviewed after the game.

Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni defended his players’ conduct in an eve-of-game news conference.

“The game the other day was played in the right way by both teams. That is football,” said the Argentina coach.

‘We want more’

Croatia, who beat Japan and pre-tournament favourites Brazil in penalty shoot-outs to reach the last four, have not won a knockout game in normal time at a major tournament since they came third at the 1998 World Cup.

With Real Madrid playmaker Modric still the leader on the pitch at the age of 37, Croatia have again defied the odds to stand on the brink of a second successive final.

Coach Zlatko Dalic said he wanted Tuesday’s match to be remembered as the “greatest game” in the country’s history.

“At back-to-back World Cups to be among the four best national teams, that’s an extraordinary success for Croatia,” said Dalic.

“However, we want more,” he added. “I’m optimistic and have full confidence in my players. They’ve shown their great quality and strength of character, and deserve to be in the final.”

Dalic has faith that his team is going to give it  all, just as they have done in previous games.

“Against Argentina we will do the same, we will give our all. We don’t have any injury problems. They don’t feel tired.”

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