Who will be the first team to punch their tickets for the World Cup Final?
Croatia has been grabbing the headlines with their heroics during the penalty shoutouts and the excellent encouragement from their famous supporter, but the metrics say they were lucky to even be there. Here is why Messi and the AlbiCeleste will beat Croatia to qualify for a second final in the last 3 World Cup tournaments.
Tuesday, December 13th, 2022 – 2:00 pm E / 11:00 am P
Stadium: Lusail Stadium
Television: TSN / CTV in Canada, FOX in the USA
Radio: IHeart Radio, TSN Radio, Sirius/XM Radio
Odds: Argentina 1.90 / Croatia 4.75 / Draw 3.33 – To Qualify Argentina 1.40 / Croatia 2.71
Head-to-Head Record at the FWC:
France 1998 FIFA World Cup, Group H, Match 3 – Argentina 1 Croatia 0, Argentina won the group, Croatia finished second.
Russia 2018 FIFA World Cup, Group D, Match 2 – Argentina 0 Croatia 3 (Rebic 53′, Modric 80′, Rakitic 90+1′) – Croatia won the group, and Argentina finished second.
It is easy to say Croatia has the best midfield in the world. The performances of Modric, Brozovic, and Kovacic during the tournament have been well-documented. The lack of offense and the lack of efficiency during their attacks however have been lost in the balance in my opinion. They scored 6 goals in the tournament so far, 8th-best out of 32, but 4 of those goals were against Canada in their second match of Group F. Meaning they have scored only two goals in their other 4 games at this tournament. Argentina scored 9 goals in Qatar, the 5th-best attack at the World Cup. They have kept an expected goals average per game of 1.78, compared to 1.03 for Croatia and that could be significant.
The difference will be who obtains the most clear-cut chances in front of the net, and the metrics indicate an advantage for Argentina there. They have obtained an average of 4.87 shots on target per game at this World Cup, the 2nd-best of the remaining teams while keeping the ball for 62% of the time. They have amassed 126 shot-creating actions (SCA) for an average of 24 SCAs per game, compared to 90 for Croatia, 16 on average per game. If Argentina keeps the ball longer than Croatia and can keep the same advantage in SCAs over the opponents as they have in all 5 games during the tournament, they will create more chances in front of the net, and it should result in a couple of goals scored for the 2014 runners-up. When it comes to set pieces, Argentina has been able to get chances and opportunities on target, generating 3 shots directly off set pieces, compared to 0 for Croatia. This could also tip the scale of Argentina’s way when it comes to the attack.
One of the measures of a good defense is, of course, the number of goals against, both fare well in that category with Argentina having allowed 4 goals in 5 games and Croatia 3 goals in their 5 matches. We can quantify a good defense by looking at the expected goals teams get against them, expected goals against (xGA). There is a significant disparity between the two teams, Argentina being the best in the tournament with only 1.9 xGA, while Croatia is second worst in the tournament with 7.5 goals against. Croatia’s defensive performance is a bit more unreplicable than we think. Their adversaries were deemed unlucky by the advanced statistics, to the count of 4.5 goals. This means that if their opponents were more clinical and had finished their clear-cut chances, they would have allowed approximately 8 goals instead of 3, and they would be third worst in the tournament for goals against. It leaves me to believe that Argentina has the best defense left in the tournament. I do want to include the midfield and the defensive metrics to nuance it a little bit. Croatia has the highest amount of recoveries in this World Cup. I love to compare tackles+recoveries+interceptions to get an overall view of a team’s ability to regain possession, and in a battle of two teams with a 50% plus average, this could be significant.
Argentina: 78 tackles + 226 recoveries + 34 interceptions = 338
Croatia: 93 tackles + 291 recoveries + 40 interceptions = 424 (highest in the competition)
I expect Croatia to be able to regain possession when they need/want and let Argentina dictate the pace of play. Argentina will be more efficient with their chances and could score even if they do not get a lot of clear opportunities. On the other hand, even if Croatia wins the midfield battle, their lack of consistency in finishing could be their downfall. I expect Croatia to want to continue and get control of the flanks and try to break down Argentina’s defense by penetrating the final third via the right and left channels. They have been very successful against Brazil doing that on the counter late in the game and could find success there.
Argentina’s brunt of creation and entries in the final third against the Netherlands were in the central channels. It could be very influential to the result of the match. The team that can dictate where they will play the ball, might decide who wins and advances to their second World Cup final in the last decade.
I can boil it down to a few individuals. If Modric, Perisic, and Kovacic can roam free and play on the ball unaffected in their channels, it will be a long evening for Argentina.
If Enzo and Messi can break the central or right channels and get a few shots on target, Livakovic and Croatia could see the game get away from them.
I believe Argentina’s advantages on the offensive and defensive aspects of the game will be enough to counter Croatia’s better midfield play. Messi only needs half a chance, or half a passing lane to be influential in this game, and I foresee him doing just that.
Argentina 2 Croatia 1, no extra-time.
You can reach Kevin Laramee at KevinOnSoccer@gmail.com
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