Argentina vs Croatia – Thursday, June 21, 19:00BST/20:00CEST/21:00 MSK – Nizhny Novgorod Stadium, Nizhny Novgorod, Russia
After an unexpected draw on Matchday one, Argentina will look to get all three points in this fixture; however, in Croatia, they will find an opponent confident of making the knock out stages after brushing aside Nigeria on the opening day.
Very few would have predicted that Argentina would fail to successfully get past Iceland, even less would have imagined that Lionel Messi would miss from the penalty spot. With both these unthinkable situations becoming a reality, the South American’s now face an uphill battle to finish top of Group D.
Wednesday’s press conference gave an insight into just how the draw against Iceland has affected Jorge Sampaoli’s approach to what has become, an exceptionally high profile fixture. Happy to speak to the press prior to the Iceland game, Sampaoli went so far as to release his starting XI – this time no such disclosure, he will not want to hand any incentive to his opposite number.
Anything but three points here for the two-time world champions will be greeted back on home soil with anger.
In stark contrast to their opponents, Croatia are relaxed and enjoying their position on top of Group D. At his Wednesday press conference, Zlatko Dalic spoke of Thursday’s fixture as an ‘easy’ one and the Vatreni have ‘nothing to lose’.
“The match against Argentina is the easiest game for us at the World Cup, because we have three points and we play against big opponent. We have nothing to lose in that game, i’ll tell my players before the start of the game just to enjoy the spectacle” – Zlatko Dalic
One particular Croatian player knows all about Argentina’s main danger man, even if Messi was out of sorts on Matchday one. Ivan Rakitic plays his domestic football in conjunction with the five time Ballon d’Or winner; however, he thinks this inside knowledge will bear no fruit in the way Croatia attempt to deal with the forward.
“We live in the time of YouTube and all other things, everything is known about him, it is difficult to give some secret about him to my coach, he is the best player in the world and it is almost impossible to block him” – Ivan Rakitic
Argentina vs Croatia – Players to look out for:
Paulo Dybala #21 – Argentina (Juventus)
The unexpected shock on Matchday one should persuade Jorge Sampaoli to give the Juventus forward his starting chance; however, in a team full of attacking options it may be to the side of Lionel Messi that the 24-year-old gets deployed.
Scoring 26 times over 46 appearances for Juventus last season, he would certainly add another goal scoring element to an already talented and capable side. Exceptional when driving at speed he has the ability to take players on at will, factor in his keen eye for a pass and you can see just why the Argentina manager may consider him to support a target man from out wide.
Ante Rebic #18 –Croatia (Eintracht Frankfurt)
The winger capped off a wonderful domestic season by firing his Eintracht Frankfurt past Bayern München in the DFB Pokal Finale, an appearance on the world’s biggest stage for national side Croatia is a crowning moment for the 24-year-old.
Substituted once the game versus Nigeria was safe, it was evident that Zlatko Dalic was keen to give his star players a rest before facing the might of Argentina. As is to be expected from any talented wide forward minded player, his ability to take on opponents and deliver a quality ball is supplemented with a devastating finish.
Argentina vs Croatia – Match Stats
- Lionel Messi has scored in each of his two previous appearances against Croatia, including his first ever goal for Argentina back in 2006.
- Croatia have lost all four of their matches against South American sides in previous World Cups.
- This is the fifth meeting of the sides, Argentina have the better record but only slightly (W2,L1, D1)
Futbolgrad Network Prediction: Argentina vs Croatia – 2-2
Argentina vs Croatia – Lineups
Caballero – Salvio, Otamendi, Rojo, Tagliafico – Mascherano, Lo Celso – Dybala, Messi, Di Maria – Aguero.
Head Coach: Jorge Sampaoli
Subasic – Vrsaljko, Lovren, Vida, Strinic – Rakitic, Modric – Perisic, Kramaric, Rebic – Mandzukic.
Head Coach: Zlatko Dalic
Chris Williams is a freelance European football journalist. Primarily covering the Bundesliga, Premier League and both of UEFA’s European club competitions. Published in both local and international publications, he also contributes to television and radio across the globe. A member of the UK’s Sports Journalist Association and the International Sports Press Association (AIPS). Follow Chris Williams on Twitter @Chris78Williams