Argentina vs Croatia Live: Argentina vs Croatia on World Cup 2018, Group D | Nizhny Novgorod Stadium. Lionel Messi must shake off a disappointing opening to the World Cup as Argentina look ahead to a tough test against Group C rivals Croatia today.
Messi missed a penalty as Argentina drew 1-1 with group minnows Iceland, while Croatia impressed with a professional 2-0 win over Nigeria.
Argentina and Croatia face off at Nizhny Novgorod Stadium on Thursday, with kick-off scheduled for 7pm BST.
Argentina will still be confident of progressing to the knockout stages – especially with a disjointed Nigeria side in their final group game – but Croatia will fancy their chances of causing an upset and living up to their billing as potential dark horses of the tournament.
When Lionel Messi had his penalty saved by Iceland goalie Hannes Halldórsson, the momentum seemed to fall completely out of the sails of his Argentina teammates.
The two nations have faced each other four times – once at the 1998 World Cup, which Argentina won 1-0, and in three friendlies.
Both sides have won a friendly apiece and drew the other one, with their most recent meeting coming in 2014 as Argentina won 2-1 thanks to a Lionel Messi penalty.
As they floundered to an unexpected draw, they could take some heart from dominating possession and shot attempts, but the nature of the performance is what will concern Argentinians the most.
Argentina coach Jorge Sampaoli hasn’t used the same lineup twice in the 12 games he’s been in charge for Argentina.
He is set to juggle again, and will likely start 22-year-old Boca Juniors forward Cristian Pavon, who is quick and can play on the right or left and is likely to replace Angel di Maria.
Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic has sent home striker Nikola Kalinic because he wouldn’t come off the bench as a substitute against Nigeria.
Kalinic, who plays for AC Milan, says he has a back injury although news reports in Croatia say he is unhappy being a substitute – that leaves the nation with 22 players for the tournament.
If they can defeat Argentina, then their passage into the knockouts will be all but confirmed and they could even rest some of their star players in their final game against Iceland.
A defeat would not be the end of the world for the team so this can be treated as a free swing by Zlatko Dalic’s men. In doing so, the pressure on this fixture is all on the Argentines, with Croatia free from its tightening grip.
A win against Argentina would more or less confirm Croatia as the winners of this group, a scenario not many people would have predicted before the tournament started.
It seems inevitable that Argentina will bounce back against Croatia simply because of the firepower they have in their squad.
Their record in qualification was admittedly shaky, but the team will surely come good against Croatia?
Croatia can look at this game as a free swing to get qualification, but really they will know their hopes will rely on defeating Iceland in their final group game.
Argentina XI: Caballero, Salvio, Otamendi, Rojo, Tagliafico, Meza, Mascherano, Messi, Biglia, Pavon, Aguero
Croatia XI: Subasic, Vrsaljko, Lovren, Vida, Strinic, Rakitic, Modric, Rebic, Kramaric, Perisic, Mandzukic