Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic insists his team will have no reason to “fear” Lionel Messi in the World Cup semi-finals if they repeat the defensive approach that limited Neymar’s influence against Brazil.
A 4-2 penalty shoot-out win over the Selecao on Friday following a 1-1 draw after extra time at Education City Stadium secured Croatia successive World Cup semi-final appearances.
Neymar did give Brazil the lead in the first half of extra time at the end of a brilliant move, before Bruno Petkovic’s deflected strike took the game to penalties.
But Brazil’s talisman otherwise struggled to penetrate the Croatian defence.
Occupying a slightly more central position inside Vinicius Junior on the left, the two players managed just one key pass and five completed dribbles out of 14 between them as Mario Pasalic, Josip Juranovic and Luka Modric worked tirelessly to pressure them.
Life will not get much easier for Croatia in their next game as they face Messi and Argentina, though Dalic is confident in their ability to keep him quiet.
“We need to guard against Messi, but not in a player-on-player style, as we didn’t [do that] in our last meeting,” he said.
“We know how much he runs, how much he likes to play with the ball at his feet and the key to our defensive phase will be discipline.
5 – Lionel Messi has assisted five goals in the World Cup knockout stages – since Opta have World Cup assists (from 1966), this is the most on record in the knockout rounds of the finals, surpassing Pelé’s four. Goat. pic.twitter.com/ScHbh5oj1b
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) December 9, 2022
“If we repeat the same thing as against Brazil, which is that we are close [to him], that we stand by the player, we have nothing to fear.”
Dalic was keen to stress Messi cannot be their sole focus.
However, he believes Croatia should be able to take encouragement from Argentina’s struggles against the Netherlands in the quarter-finals.
The Albiceleste were 2-0 up against the Oranje before being pegged back by Wout Weghorst’s brace, forcing extra time and subsequent penalties.
Argentina came through the shoot-out successfully, though in Dalic’s mind they clearly are not bulletproof.
“We will make a detailed analysis of [Argentina] because we have not been so focused on them so far,” he said.
“Messi is still their main player, who plays great and carries this national team. They also have some young, talented players and they look very dangerous.
“However, they showed they are vulnerable because they led 2-0 against the Netherlands, and in the end they barely reached penalties at 2-2.
“It’s up to us to give our best and go into the game one hundred percent focused.”
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