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Two famous number 10s who have won the Ballon d’Or. two losers in the World Cup finals. Captains in two. Before they retire, they have one final opportunity to reach football’s pinnacle and win the illustrious trophy.
Lionel Messi of Argentina and Luka Modric of Croatia are arguably the two players who will make or break Tuesday’s first World Cup semi-final.
With Messi of Paris St. Germain now 35 and Modric of Real Madrid 37, it appears quite likely that their World Cup careers will conclude in this weekend’s final or third-place play-off.
How do they compare at this World Cup?
Both players scored in their respective quarterfinal penalty shootout victories and have been essential to their nations’ World Cup performances.
While Modric scored Croatia’s third goal in their victory over tournament favorites Brazil, Argentina’s victory over the Netherlands was started by Messi taking the opening kick.
The first World Cup player to score three penalties in shootouts is Modric (also netting against Denmark and Russia in 2018).
Messi has the advantage in 90 or 120 minutes. While Modric has yet to record a goal or an assist, Messi plays up front while Modric plays in midfield. He has scored four goals and provided two assists.
Messi, a legendary player for Barcelona, scored a penalty against Saudi Arabia, assisted on a goal against Mexico, and saw a penalty against Poland saved during the group stage.
In the round of 16, he scored the first goal against Australia. In the quarterfinal, he assisted on the first goal against the Netherlands. In the 73rd minute, he scored from the penalty spot. He then scored again in the shootout.
During his BBC One interview, Martin Keown said: “Lionel Messi never ceases to produce. It was a really good punishment. He’s in great shape. His coworkers are feeling his belief and confidence.”
Rio Ferdinand, a fellow former England defender, commented after Argentina defeated Australia: “the World Cup’s top individual effort by a player. It has almost divine qualities. This is unlike anything I’ve ever seen.”
Pablo Zabaleta, a former teammate of Messi’s from Argentina, added: “You can sense that he is enjoying it. I think Messi realizes that this is his last World Cup.”
In Croatia’s quarterfinal matchup with Brazil, former Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Modric drew Micah Richards’ attention.
The former England defender said on BBC One, “We assumed it would be his last World Cup.” He “dictated at his pace with some of the passes he made, and Brazil didn’t know what to do.”
Modric was replaced before the penalties in Croatia’s shootout victory over Japan in the round of 16, but he remained in the game against Brazil.
Again, Luka was in charge of the team for 120 minutes, according to Croatian manager Zlatko Dalic. He plays for his age unbelievably well, and he shows no signs of fatigue.
We were considering replacing a midfielder when we went behind, so we questioned him about his circumstances. He claimed to be still fully prepared. He once more demonstrated why he is among the finest players in the world.
Messi leads the World Cup in both shots (25) and attempts on goal (12), with his Paris St. Germain teammate Kylian Mbappe of France coming in second on both counts. He is down 5-4 to Mbappe in the battle for the Golden Boot.
Messi comes in at number eight with 171 successful passes in the final third, which is only four more than Modric’s 201. With 28, Modric has completed the fifth-most crosses in the competition.
Only two players have gained possession of the ball more frequently (39 times) or made more interceptions (8 times) than the Croat, who has also impressed further back on the field.
Messi’s five-game average in the BBC Sport player ratings, which our readers chose, is 7.01, whereas Modric’s is 7.46.
How do their international legacies compare?
One of these two has lost in each of the last two World Cup finals.
Messi’s Argentina lost 1-0 against Germany in 2014 thanks to a goal from Mario Gotze in extra time. Modric’s Croatia lost to France 4-2 four years ago.
In the process, both were presented with the Golden Ball, an honor given to the tournament’s top player. Additionally, both could accomplish significant goals in Tuesday’s game.
When it comes to World Cup appearances, Messi will tie Lothar Matthaus’ record (25). At the weekend’s final or third-place play-off, he would then smash the German’s record.
One of these two teams lost the last two World Cup finals.
Messi’s Argentina fell to Germany and Mario Gotze’s extra-time goal in 2014, losing 1-0. France defeated Modric’s Croatia 4-2 four years ago.
This resulted in both of them winning the Golden Ball, an honor given to the tournament’s top player. And in the game on Tuesday, both could accomplish significant goals.
In terms of appearances at the World Cup, Messi will tie Lothar Matthaus’ record (25). At the weekend’s final or play-off for third place, he would then surpass the German’s record.
He already holds the record for the most assists in World Cup knockout games after surpassing Pele of Brazil’s previous four-assist mark in their most recent match.
Three different World Cup games, including two this year, have included goals that Messi has both scored and assisted on. Since the beginning of data collection in 1966, no player has accomplished that feat in four games.
He has 170 caps and 95 goals, both of which are national records.
Modric has amassed 160 caps for Croatia and has netted 23 goals for his country.
Modric will surpass Brazil’s Nilton Santos, who had just turned 37 in 1962, to become the oldest outfield player to start six games in a World Cup.
Before this semi-final, he had played in most World Cups (17) and significant events (30) for Croatia.
Modric has yet to take home a title, whereas Messi has one Copa America to show for his international career.
The players’ careers also have a beautiful symmetry to them. In the same match, a friendly between the two teams in March 2006 that Croatia won 3-2, Messi scored his first goal against Argentina and Modric made his Croatian debut.
How about their overall careers?
Messi will play in his 1,002nd game for club and country in this semifinal. He has 339 assists to go along with his 790 goals.
It is more difficult to be certain of Modric’s career statistics because of his less well-documented stints with Dinamo Zagreb, Zrinjski Mostar, and Inter Zapresic in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Messi has won the Ballon d’Or seven times, while Modric won it in 2018. The only other winners since 2007 have been French attacker Karim Benzema and Portuguese icon Cristiano Ronaldo.
Messi has won four Champions Leagues to Modric’s five, and both players have won league championships in two different nations.