MX23RW : Thursday, July 19 04:20:54
Jun 21, 2018 at 7pm UK at ​Nizhny Novgorod Stadium
Attendance: 43,319
Argentina
0-3
Croatia

Mercado (51'), Otamendi (85'), Acuna (87')
FT(HT: 0-0)
Rebic (53'), Modric (80'), Rakitic (90')
Rebic (39'), Mandzukic (59'), Vrsaljko (67'), Corluka (90')

Preview: Argentina vs. Croatia - prediction, team news, lineups

Sports Mole provides team news, predicted XIs and a full match preview as Argentina look to bounce back from their draw with Iceland against Croatia in Group D.

Argentina will be looking to bounce back from their opening-game slip-up on Thursday when they take on Croatia in Nizhny Novgorod.

The two-time world champions were held to a 1-1 draw by Iceland in their first game of the World Cup, leaving them trailing Group D leaders Croatia ahead of this crucial second outing.


Argentina

Sergio Aguero misses a penalty during the World Cup group game between Argentina and Iceland on June 16, 2018© Reuters

The story of Argentina's opening World Cup game wrote itself; the 2014 runners-up failed to beat the smallest nation to ever qualify for the tournament, and Lionel Messi missed a penalty to boot.

It was a seismic shock which began a run of results defying all the odds, although considering Argentina's struggles to even reach Russia and Iceland's giant-killing performances at Euro 2016, it was a result many may have had a sneaky feeling was possible - if not probable.

Argentina did not play particularly well at the World Cup four years ago despite making it all the way to the final, while in qualifying they needed a win on the final day and for other results to go their way to clinch their place at this summer's tournament.

Messi dragged them through on both occasions, but the Barcelona talisman was unable to come to the rescue again against Iceland when he saw his penalty saved - a golden opportunity to win the game and take a huge amount of pressure off Argentina's shoulders.

As though a penalty miss in the World Cup does not draw enough attention for arguably the greatest player of all time, Cristiano Ronaldo's blistering start to the tournament for Portugal has magnified it even more and Argentina may need Messi to wield similar influence to his perennial rival if they are to get themselves out of a hole in Group D.

This contest with Croatia looks to be Argentina's most difficult of the group stages on paper, and anything other than a victory could leave qualification for the last 16 out of their own hands.

Not since 1974 have La Albiceleste failed to win either of their opening two World Cup group games, though, and they have only lost one of their last 16 outings in the groups too - a 1-0 loss to England in 2002.

Manager Jorge Sampaoli is understood to be considering a drastic change in the wake of the Iceland draw, though, switching up the team's formation in an effort to pose more attacking threat from a squad which boasts the likes of Sergio Aguero, Paulo Dybala and Gonzalo Higuain alongside Messi.

It is an offensive quartet which would be the envy of most teams in world football, but Argentina's biggest problem has been putting the ball in the back of the net; they have scored just nine goals in their last 10 competitive games and had the lowest shot-conversion ratio of any team in South American qualifying.

Argentina need others to step up - Messi has done it countless times in the past and Aguero blasted the team in front against Iceland, but Argentina have already discovered at this World Cup that a solid team performance can prove every bit as effective as sprinklings of stardust.

Recent form: D
Recent form (all competitions): WLWLWD


Croatia

Croatia's Luka Modric in action with Nigeria's John Obi Mikel during the World Cup group-stage match on June 16, 2018© Reuters

Croatia will have been just as encouraged as Iceland themselves by Argentina's slip-up, and victory over the faltering two-time champions on Thursday would seal their place in the last 16 with a game to spare.

Zlatko Dalic's side began their campaign with a 2-0 win over Nigeria, courtesy of an own goal and a penalty, although that scoreline was perhaps flattering considering the lack of threat from open play.

Luka Modric's goal from the spot in the 71st minute was their first shot on target of the entire match, and they did not register one from open play until the 92nd minute.

Croatia still did enough to pick up all three points and leave themselves in the driving seat in Group D, though, and their hopes of reaching the knockout rounds for the first time since 1998 now look very strong indeed.

Victory over Argentina would see the Croats record back-to-back wins at a World Cup for the first time since that famous run to the semi-finals 20 years ago, and they have a record which suggests that they only improve after blowing away any opening-game cobwebs.

Never have Croatia been beaten in their second game of a World Cup campaign, winning three of their four such matches in the past and conceding just one goal in that time too - in a 2-1 victory over Italy in 2002.

Argentina would be a similarly big scalp, although Croatia's record against South American opposition is less impressive, losing all four of their previous World Cup outings against teams from that continent - including one against Thursday's opponents.

Even a draw may be regarded as a satisfactory result, then, as it would still leave them in control of the group, and top spot could be enough to avoid France in the last 16 as an added bonus.

Recent form: W
Recent form (all competitions): DLWLWW


Team News

Sergio Aguero scores the opener during the World Cup group game between Argentina and Iceland on June 16, 2018© Reuters

The biggest speculation surrounding the team news for Argentina is that Sampaoli may switch from a 4-2-3-1 formation to a 3-4-3 system.

The likes of Aguero, who has scored in each of his last four appearances for his country, and Messi, who has scored 14 goals in his last 17 international outings, are expected to keep their places in the side, though.

Messi has failed to score with any of his last 21 shots at the World Cup, but has netted two hat-tricks in his most recent four games for Argentina and will be hoping to bounce back from his penalty miss.

The formation change could see recalls for Gabriel Mercado and Marcos Acuna, while Cristian Pavon could be handed his first competitive start.

Croatia, meanwhile, are without Nikola Kalinic after the striker was sent home having refused to come off the bench against Nigeria due to an alleged back injury.

The importance of Mario Mandzukic has grown even further, then, while at the other end veteran defender Vedran Corluka - who was an unused sub against Nigeria - could win his 100th cap for his country.

Argentina possible starting lineup:
Caballero; Mercado, Otamendi, Tagliafico; Salvio, Mascherano, Meza, Acuna; Messi, Aguero, Pavon

Croatia possible starting lineup:
Subasic; Vrsaljko, Lovren, Vida, Strinic; Rakitic, Badelj; Brozovic, Modric, Perisic; Mandzukic​


Head To Head

These two sides have met on four previous occasions, including a group-stage clash at the 1998 World Cup which Argentina won 1-0 when both sides had already qualified for the knockout rounds.

Argentina edge the head-to-head record with two wins to one, including victory in the most recent fixture when a Messi penalty completed a 2-1 turnaround in November 2014.

Messi was also on the scoresheet in March 2006, although on that occasion Croatia came from behind to win 3-2.


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We say: Argentina 1-0 Croatia

Argentina need to win if they are to keep qualification in their own hands, and we expect them to achieve it. Much depends on how they respond, and whether Sampaoli makes the rumoured changes, but they have the quality to take a vital three points from this game.


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Who will win Thursday's Group D clash between Argentina and Croatia?

Argentina
Draw
Croatia
Argentina
68.6%
Draw
15.0%
Croatia
16.3%
Croatia manager Zlatko Dalic on November 9, 2017
Read Next:
Croatia's Kalinic sent home from World Cup
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