World Cup Preview: Argentina v Croatia

Who? Argentina - Croatia
Where? Nizhny Novgorod Stadium, Nizhny Novgorod
When? June 21, 20:00 (CET local time)

Argentina (Yossi Medina)

The world is still waiting for the arrival of one of its best footballers. After missing the penalty kick against Iceland, a lot of doubts arose about the ability of Lionel Messi to lead Argentina for a second World Cup final in a row.

We need to remember that Messi was not the only player that played poorly last Saturday. The Argentinians looked nervous and barely could handle with the strong Icelandic defense. In the past, Argentina faced such challenges like games against Iran or Switzerland in the previous World Cup. Yet, back then they had the strength to keep and looking for the goal and in 2018 it seems that they lack it.

In order to change it, Jorge Sampaoli is expected to change the formation for this match. Unlike against Iceland, Argentina will use a front line of three, including Lionel Messi, Sergio Agüero and Cristian Pavón. This change means that Ángel Di María is expected to start this game as a substitute.

If Argentina will fail to win against Croatia, the Albiceleste will be in an unusual situation with no wins after two group stage matches. Only once in the history Argentina started a World Cup campaign with such a record, it was in 1974 and Argentina qualified to the next stage only due to a better goal difference.

With all the pressure and the fact that Croatia believes in the opportunity to make a great result in this game, Argentina can feel that this game is a do or die match. Another bad result and the team will quickly become nervous, a win and Argentina will keep dreaming on their journey to Moscow. It's going to be a hard night for Argentina.

Croatia (Eden Roitfarb)

1.3.2006: Croatia and Argentina face in an international break friendly. One young Lionel Messi scores his first ever goal for the Albiceleste, yet the Croatians still won 3-2 on the night. Today, these two will square for a crucial game in the World Cup group stage. Undoubtedly, every Croatian would sign up for the same scenario from 12 years ago.

Besides Messi, only one player from that game is present in Russia 2018: Luka Modrić, which coincidentally marked his international debut. Modrić has similarly became the leader for his national team on the pitch and has played a massive part in Real Madrid’s 3 successive Champions League trophies. However, these credentials didn’t automatically earn him the love of Croatian fans, who do not appreciate his involvement in the local football corruption scandal, starred by former Dinamo Zagreb chief Zdravko Mamic. The tumultuous relationship between Modrić and the fans has known ups and downs, but after his man of the match performance and penalty goal against Nigeria, he might have softened up some of his critics. 

On the other hand, some internal turmoil sparked up in the Croatian camp after Saturday’s win: Striker Nikola Kalinić has been sent home after refusing to enter as a substitute vs Nigeria, perhaps due to frustration of not being in Zlatko Dalic’s starting 11. Croatian national teams were never known for maintaining a quiet atmosphere, and it is remained to be seen whether that might affect their progress. With that in mind, Croatia know their strengths. Exactly 2 years ago, they pulled out an impressive winning performance vs Spain during the Euros. Hopefully for them, they can reproduce that against a nervous Argentinian side.

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