With their fate out of their hands, Argentina face Nigeria at the Krestovsky Stadium in a decisive match that could decide who joins Croatia in the Round of 16.

Having drawn their first and emphatically lost their second Group D game, Argentina will be walking a thin line between qualification and elimination when they face Nigeria in their final group game. A win would get the South Americans four points, but they need to ensure they win by a big margin as a superior goal difference will swing the standings in their favour, should Iceland win their game as well.

Nigeria, on the other hand, were responsible for keeping Argentina’s hopes alive, but hope they kill it once and for all when they meet La Albiceleste by beating them. A win means Nigeria finish the group with six points and thus, qualify alongside Croatia for the knockout stages, knocking both Argentina and Iceland out of the competition.

With the group in a tricky situation as only Croatia have a guaranteed place into the next round, a lot will depend on both the games. Argentina definitely need a win, so do Iceland, with goal difference set to play a key part should both win their respective games. The Hard Tackle now takes a closer look at the encounter.

Team News & Tactics

Nigeria

Ahmed Musa scored two goals against Iceland to set up a crunch final round of games in Group D. (Photo courtesy: AFP/Getty)

Ahmed Musa scored two goals against Iceland to set up a crunch final round of games in Group D. (Photo courtesy: AFP/Getty)

After a commanding victory over Iceland in their last match, Nigeria are likely to retain all the players from the game against Argentina, meaning there is unlikely to be a place for Alex Iwobi or Odion Ighalo in the starting lineup. As a result, two-goal hero Ahmed Musa and Kelechi Iheanacho should start once again against Argentina.

Gernot Rohr will likely go with the same 3-5-2 formation, with two wing-backs in Victor Moses and Brian Idowu. Jon Obi Mikel, Wilfried Ndidi and Oghenekaro Etebo are set to be the Super Eagles’ three central midfielders, looking to contain the Argentine attack in the middle.

Rohr will also play a three-man central defensive system with the same trio that played against Iceland. After making significant changes to his side for the Iceland game, and seeing that it produced the desired results, the Nigeria boss will now hope they produce the goods once again, with Iwobi and Ighalo fine options off the bench.

Probable Starting-XI (3-5-2): Uzoho; Balogun, Troost-Ekong, Omeruo; Moses, Ndidi, Mikel, Etebo, Idowu; Musa, Iheanacho

Argentina

Jorge Sampaoli made some significant changes to his side for their game against Croatia, all of which backfired as Argentina suffered a rather heavy 3-0 defeat, leaving their hopes for qualifying into the next round hanging. For their game against Nigeria, Sampaoli is set to make big changes yet again to ensure his side gives their best to win.

Federico Fazio was on the bench for the first two games and could start against Nigeria. (Photo courtesy: AFP/Getty)

Federico Fazio was on the bench for the first two games and could start against Nigeria. (Photo courtesy: AFP/Getty)

Firstly, there is likely to be no place for Willy Caballero after his disastrous howler against Croatia. This means River Plate’s Franco Armani would start between the posts. Sampaoli is also set to start with Federico Fazio at the heart of the Argentine defence, with the other options backfiring thus far.

While Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero are set to retain their places in attack, Sampaoli will be pondering further changes in personnel in midfield and other attacking areas. Angel Di Maria could return to the side on the left side of the front three, while Lucas Biglia, Ever Banega and Javier Mascherano could form a solid midfield three.

Probable Starting-XI (4-3-3): Armani; Mercado, Otamendi, Fazio, Rojo; Mascherano, Biglia, Banega; Messi, Di Maria, Aguero

Key Stats

  • Argentina and Nigeria will meet for the fifth time in a World Cup game.
  • Argentina are on their longest winless run at World Cup, after failing to register a win in their last four games.
  • Argentina have never finished their group stages without a victory and the last time they exited at this stage was in 2002.
  • Ahmed Musa is now Nigeria’s leading goalscorer at World Cups with four strikes to his name.
  • Lionel Messi has taken 12 shots without scoring a goal at this World Cup.

Player to Watch

Lionel Messi

Will he deliver for his nation in Argentina's most decisive game since the 2014 World Cup Final? (Photo courtesy: AFP/Getty)

Will he deliver for his nation in Argentina’s most decisive game since the 2014 World Cup Final? (Photo courtesy: AFP/Getty)

How many times has his team needed him badly or performance from someone, and Lionel Messi has delivered? Plenty of times in the last few years, most notably when Argentina needed a win to qualify for the World Cup and Messi delivered with a hat-trick. His team needs him more than ever against Nigeria.

After two disappointing outings already at the World Cup, Messi is expected to step up and deliver for his side to ensure La Albiceleste do as much as possible to keep their hopes alive. Messi will also likely take the Nigeria game as the stepping stone for better performances for the rest of the tournament, in the case they progress.

Prediction

Nigeria 1-3 Argentina

This prediction of an Argentina win comes because the South Americans have almost always performed when their backs have been against the wall. For some reason, despite it being present against Croatia as well, La Albiceleste did seem like a relaxed side and did not perform very well.

Now, in this do-or-die game against Nigeria, expect this Argentina side to come together and perform at the highest level. Their goal is simple, win big to stand a chance to qualify and hope that Iceland lose to Croatia. Our prediction favours Argentina with a good enough victory to boost their chances of a knockout round place.

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