Por Karolos Grohmann
DOHA, Qatar, Dec 11 (Reuters) – Croatia will not try to stop the Argentine superstar Lionel Messi by marking him, but will focus on immobilizing the entire team in their semifinal of the World Cup on Tuesday, players of the European selection said.
Croatia is pushing to reach the final for the second consecutive World Cup after losing the 2018 final to France.
Surprendieron a los favoritos del tournament, Brasil, en los cuartos de final al forzar una tanda de penalos que terminaron ganando.
“We still don’t have a specific plan to stop Messi and, in general, we don’t concentrate on stopping one player but the whole team,” said forward Bruno Petkovic in a press conference on Sunday.
“Let’s try to stop them as a team and not with a personal team. Argentina is not just Messi, they have a lot of great players, we have to stop the entire selection of Argentina,” he added.
Messi, seven times winner of the Ballon d’Or, has until now been the engine of the Argentines, who also needed penalties after squandering a two-goal lead against the Netherlands in the quarter-finals.
Without sanctioned players and without injury problems after the return of Croatian defender Borna Sosa, Zlatko Dalic’s team is full of confidence and ready for more.
His center of the field, composed of captain Luka Modric, Mateo Kovacic and Marcelo Brozovic, will be key to marking the rhythm, as they did against Brazil, and defender Josip Juranovic said that the three were absolutely reliable.
“Mateo, Luka and Marcelo are the best center of the Croatian camp in history, I don’t think it can be repeated. When you give them the ball, it’s safer than having money in the bank,” said the defender.
Substitute Petkovic scored the tying goal in the 117th minute against Brazil to force penalties, and Croatia has now won four penalty kicks in World Cups.
“I think many people who are not professional footballers can make successful penalties. The difference is the strength you are mentally, there is enormous pressure that you have never experienced before, but it also helps when you have a world-class goalkeeper,” said Petkovic.
Goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic saved a shot from the penalty spot against Brazil after saving three in his round of eight finals against Japan.
“Every day that passes, I am becoming more and more aware of the magnitude of this objective. Perhaps I will experience something similar in the semifinal or beyond,” Petkovic pointed out.
(Report by Carlos Grohmann. Edited in Spanish by Carlos Calvo Pacheco)