After a disappointing draw in their opening game against Iceland, Argentina will be looking to make amends and get three points when they meet Croatia.
Argentina already feel they have a long way to go in repeating the feats of the 2014 World Cup after a disappointing start to their campaign in Russia. The South Americans only managed to draw against a highly charged Iceland side. But, the real disappointment in that game came when Lionel Messi missed a penalty that could have potentially won them the game.
Now they meet Croatia in their second Group D game, and the Vatreni will prove to be a tricky opposition. With Argentina already in a must-win situation to keep their knockout round hopes alive, Lionel Messi & co. will have to up their performance levels if they aspire to win against this Croatia side who already look like the dark horses of the World Cup.
Croatia, meanwhile, secured all three points in their opening game against Nigeria, courtesy an Oghenekaro Etebo own goal and a second-half penalty by Luka Modric. However, there would be no room for Croatia to relax just yet as they aim to seal their passage into the next round, knowing all too well what three points against Argentina would mean to those hopes.
Team News & Tactics
Jorge Sampaoli is thought to be planning some significant changes to his Argentina side ahead of their clash with Croatia. Apart from a change of personnel, the experienced coach is believed to be planning tactical changes to his team as well, as they look for a much-needed win in their second clash of the group, with a three-man defence a possible solution.
With the possible new formation, Sampaoli could sacrifice Marcus Rojo and replace him with Gabriel Mercado at the back. Sampaoli’s idea with the three-man defence will be to add more stability to the back and fluidity to the team’s attack. Considering that, a backline of Mercado, Nicolas Otamendi and Nicolas Tagliafico is expected to start against Croatia.
In attack, Sampaoli could drop Angel Di Maria for this game, replacing him with Christian Pavon, who was somewhat impressive in his cameo appearance against Iceland. Lucas Biglia’s place is also under threat and he could be dropped to the bench in favour of Enzo Perez, with Marcos Acuna lining up as the left wing-back.
Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero are expected to retain their spots, with the latter scoring in the opening game, meaning Gonzalo Higuain is again set for a place on the bench alongside the likes of Paulo Dybala and Di Maria.
Probable Starting-XI (3-4-3): Caballero; Mercado, Otamendi, Tagliafico; Salvio, Mascherano, Perez, Acuna; Pavon, Aguero, Messi
Ahead of their clash against Argentina, the big news from the Croatia camp comes with the exclusion of Nikola Kalinic on disciplinary grounds, after the AC Milan striker refused to come on as a substitute in their first game against Nigeria. Zlatko Dalic will not be looking to make wholesale changes to his side after their impressive win against Nigeria, and only minor changes are likely.
Andrej Kramaric looks set to be dropped to the bench in favour of Marcelo Brozovic to add more steel in midfield. The forced absence of Kalinic leaves Mario Madzukic as the only recognised striker in the Croatian camp, which means he will start against Argentina and in almost all games that Croatia play.
Dalic will keep faith with his four-man defence to keep the likes of Messi and Aguero quiet, meaning Dejan Lovren and Domagoj Vida are set to start yet again at the heart of defence. Luka Modric, Ante Rebic and Ivan Perisic will form the three-man attack behind Mandzukic to complete the team for Croatia against Argentina.
Probable Starting-XI (4-2-3-1) – Subasic; Vrsaljko, Lovren, Vida, Strinic; Rakitic, Brozovic; Perisic, Modric, Rebic; Mandzukic
- Argentina and Croatia have met only once before at the World Cup with the La Albiceleste winning that encounter back in 1998.
- Croatia have lost all four of their meetings at the World Cup against South American opposition.
- Lionel Messi attempted a World Cup-high 10 shots against Iceland, but failed to score.
- Messi has, however, scored in his last two appearances against Croatia.
- Croatia have scored in their last five World Cup games, but have not won back-to-back matches in the tournament since 1998.
Player To Watch
When top players miss substantial penalties, as the one Lionel Messi did against Iceland, there’s always a sea of criticism thrown towards them without actually looking at his overall performance in that game. Messi took ten shots against Iceland, but will be known for the costly penalty miss that could prove vital if Argentina struggle in the next few group games.
The quality of the player is such that he will try to make amends right in the next game and that would be Croatia. Messi knows that the majority of the creativity and scoring burden is on his shoulders and he indeed will be on hand to show his true colours against Croatia. He will have more eyeballs set firmly on him when he takes the field for Argentina’s second group game.
Argentina 2-1 Croatia
Croatia did not show full solidarity in defence despite registering a clean sheet against Nigeria, who were dismal in their overall performance. Argentina, on the other hand, did not disappoint all that much in the attacking side of the game and it was largely down to the resilience of Iceland that they could not score more goals from open play.
A likely change in tactics and formation could help Argentina penetrate better against Croatia, who certainly have some defensive leaks that Lionel Messi & co. could exploit. We predict Argentina to get their first win of the competition, but their change in defensive shape could mean they could yet concede against the potent attackers of Croatia.