The tournament in Russia will likely be the last chance for Lionel Messi (31-year-old) to lift his maiden World Cup silverware, but he got off to a nightmare start on Saturday as La Albiceleste will face hard times bouncing back against their main rivals in group D in the second round.
It was a rather dismal performance by the entire Argentine team on their opening day against Iceland. They just lacked the creativity up front relying heavily on Messi whose 11 shots on target did nothing to cause damage to Iceland’s rock-solid defensive line.
We doubt Jorge Sampaoli’s men would have scored at all had Sergio Aguero not produced a moment of brilliance in the 19th minute with a beautiful effort which pushed the South American hopefuls ahead after a slow start.
Nevertheless, the lead only lasted for five minutes as Augsburg’s Alfred Finnbogason sent the deflection into the net and set the final score of the match.
The moment which marked the affair came midway through the second half when Barcelona’s star missed a penalty to bring his nation the starting victory in Russia. It was Messi’s fourth missed penalty in last seven attempts for the club and country.
To make things worse for Jorge Sampaoli, his men are now to take on a stronger opposition in the likes of Croatia.
The Croats opened the tournament with a victory for the first time since 1998 when they defeated Jamaica 3-1 on their WC debut. They went on to win the third place later on back then, by far the greatest achievement in their football history.
Croatia possess a highly-talented squad this time around as well and seeing them make a deep run in Russia would by no means be a miracle, especially if the attacking line led by Kramaric and Mandzukic, improves later on.
The attack failed to complement the world-class midfield in the opening fixture as Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic were the ones who inspired the initial 2-0 victory over Nigeria on Saturday night in Kaliningrad.
Argentina Team News
Sampaoli will have to make some changes to the squad which disappointed heavily in the first round against Iceland.
One of his biggest concerns is goalkeeper Willy Caballero who has to be the first option following Sergio Romero’s injury. Chelsea’s reserve keeper will be tested heavily on Thursday against Croatia.
Sergio Aguero will certainly start up front after scoring a stunner against Iceland, meaning Gonzalo Higuain will again wait for his chance from the bench.
It will be interesting to see if Paulo Dybala will get a chance to make the starting line-up. We’d not be surprised to see him on the right flank, instead of Maximiliano Meza.
PSG’s Giovani Lo Celso should also feature as defensive midfielder after skipping the first clash.
Argentina Predicted Starting Eleven (4-2-3-1)
Caballero – Salvio, Otamendi, Rojo, Tagliafico – Mascherano, Biglia (Lo Celso) – Dybala (Meza), Messi, Di Maria – Aguero.
Croatia Team News
Zlatko Dalic does not have a reason to change anything from the squad that defeated Nigeria 2-0 on the first game.
That said, Modric and Rakitic will cover the centre of the park as the best pair of defensive midfielders in the tournament.
Andrej Kramaric will play just behind Mario Mandzukic up front, while flanks are reserved for Ante Rebic and Ivan Perisic, both of whom have enjoyed fantastic seasons with their respective clubs.
Croatia Predicted Starting Eleven (4-2-3-1)
Subasic – Vrsaljko, Lovren, Vida, Strinic – Rakitic, Modric – Perisic, Kramaric, Rebic – Mandzukic.
Argentina Croatia Head-to-head
The two sides met each other for four times in the past. Argentina lead the tie by a single win having won 2, drawn 1 and lost 1.
La Albiceleste won the lone H2H encounter at World Cups back in 1998 when they took a 1-0 victory in the group stage. Interestingly, the Croatian outfit went on to reach the semi-final back then after advancing from the group in spite of the mentioned loss.
Croatia took a 3-2 victory in a friendly on their soil in March 2006, while Argentina came on top when the two sides met on the neutral venue of the Bolelyn Ground in London in November 2014 (2-1).
Argentina Croatia Prediction
Argentina are in a must-win situation here following the initial draw to Iceland. Anything but a victory would compromise not only the top-spot finish in the Group D, but even team’s ambitions of advancing to the next knockout stage.
This, combined with the fact they are to play the highly motivated and talented squad, makes it a super complicated affair for Jorge Sampaoli and his men.
La Albiceleste revealed plenty of defensive holes on Saturday against Iceland and we can hardly see them winning the battle at the centre of the park against the likes of Modric and Rakitic on the day.
Defensively, Croatia looked very well against Nigeria. Can they replay Iceland’s display and stop Lionel Messi here, that’s we wait to see.
If they do so, they are favourites to win because we do not doubt in them scoring past the sloppy defensive line of Argentina’s here.
After all, Croatia did find the back of the net in each of last five games at the World Cup, their biggest streak ever in this tournament.
The value is thus definitely with Croatia who are worth backing not to lose at 1.85. Braver tipsters can try with Croats winning at 4.33.