Argentina vs Croatia: Argentina faces Croatia on Thursday in Nizhny Novgorod with first place in Group D up for grabs ahead of Iceland and Nigeria on Friday. It’s an early, massive match at the World Cup. Croatia is coming off a 2-0 win over Nigeria while Argentina couldn’t find its scoring boots in a 1-1 draw with Iceland.
Argentina vs Croatia
When: Thursday at 2 p.m. ET
Where: Nizhny Novgorod Stadium
TV: Fox and Telemundo
A team featuring Lionel Messi can never be ignored, even though the 2014 runners-up barely made it to this World Cup.But other key talent like Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain have been far from top form for Argentina. That is why little-known Boca Juniors striker Daria Benedetto has been deployed up front.
Coach: Jorge Sampaoli
Star player: Lionel Messi
World Cup best: Winners 1978, 1986
How they got here: A nervy qualification campaign saw one of world football’s great powers book their place at the last opportunity with victory over Ecuador but the losing finalists in 2014 will be looking to go one better.
Goalkeepers: Sergio Romero, Willy Caballero, Franco Armani
Defenders: Gabriel Mercado, Javier Mascherano, Nicolas Otamendi, Federico Fazio, Marcos Rojo, Nicolas Tagliafico, Marcos Acuna, Cristian Ansaldi
Midfielders: Maximiliano Meza, Lucas Biglia, Ever Banega, Giovani Lo Celso, Angel Di Maria, Cristian Pavon, Eduardo Salvio, Enzo Perez
Forwards: Paulo Dybala, Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain.
In focus: Messidepencia to reach new heights in Russia
Croatia had to squeeze through the play-offs for the second straight World Cup despite having at their disposal a generation of players capable of making the difference. Led by playmaker Luka Modric alongside Mario Mandzukic, Ivan Rakitic and Ivan Perisic, Croatia are on paper a tough team to beat.They need the players to replicate their club form on the international stage at a major tournament.
Coach: Zlatko Dalic
Star player: Luka Modric
World Cup best: Third place 1998
How they got here: Ivan Rakitic, Luka Modric and Ivan Perisic make for one of the best creative midfields in the tournament but they have failed to make it out of their group on their last three appearances since reaching the semi-finals at France 98.
Goalkeepers: Danijel Subasic (Monaco), Lovre Kalinic (Gent), Dominik Livakovic (Dinamo)
Defenders: Vedran Corluka (Lokomotiv Moscow), Domagoj Vida (Besiktas), Ivan Strinic (Sampdoria), Dejan Lovren (Liverpool), Sime Vrsaljko (Atletico Madrid), Josip Pivaric (Dynamo Kiev), Tin Jedvaj (Bayer Leverkusen)Duje Caleta-Car (Salzburg)
Midfielders: Luka Modric, Mateo Kovacic (both Real Madrid), Ivan Rakitic (Barcelona), Milan Badelj (Fiorentina), Marcelo Brozovic (Inter), Filip Bradaric (Rijeka)
Forwards: Mario Mandzukic (Juventus), Ivan Perisic (Inter), Nikola Kalinic (Milan), Andrej Kramaric (Hoffenheim), Marko Pjaca (Schalke), Ante Rebic (Eintracht)