Lionel Messi
Lionel Messi Reuters

Lionel Messi had a bit of a nightmare in the opening match, with the Argentina skipper failing to take his chances against Iceland. Lightning, though, is unlikely to strike twice, and, therefore, Croatia will need to be ready for a Messi backlash when the two sides meet in a crucial Group D match of the Fifa World Cup 2018.

Argentina, despite having the bulk of the ball against Iceland, failed to take advantage of their superiority by turning it into goals, and, after conceding a goal at their end, the team from South America had to eventually settle for a point.

Messi was the main culprit in the profligacy stakes, with the Barcelona forward missing a penalty. Argentina and Messi need to put that missed opportunity behind them now because they will be up against a seriously strong side in Croatia.

Jorge Sampaoli has been tipped to change his tactics completely for this Croatia match, with the Argentina manager set to go with a back three instead of the flat back four employed against Iceland.

That could mean a first competitive outing for the highly-rated Cristian Pavon, who is expected to line up with Messi and Sergio Aguero up front.

Whether the change in the formation works or not we'll only know at the end of the game, but Croatia will be in confident mood after their comfortable 2-0 win over Nigeria. With Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic running the midfield, Argentina will have a difficult task on Thursday in Nizhny Novgorod.

Whenever Iceland broke forward, the Argentina defence looked vulnerable, and with Croatia having a seasoned striker in the shape of Mario Mandzukic, they will be confident of finishing off their chances.

Team news:

Argentina: Angel Di Maria was ineffective against Iceland, so is expected to make way for Pavon. Gabriel Mercado is also expected to start this game, with Marcos Rojo and Lucas Biglia tipped to begin the encounter from the bench.

The responsibility, up front, in particular, lies with the likes of Aguero, who needs to step up. Aguero looked primed for a World Cup to remember when he scored the opener against Iceland but then went quiet for the rest of the game. That cannot happen, he needs to take up the mantle and release the burden on Messi a little.

There will be a lot of pressure on Pavon if he does get the nod, and it is surprising that Sampaoli isn't going with Paulo Dybala instead, considering the Juventus man has much more experience and can fit right into that front three.


The Croats will play the rest of the Fifa World Cup 2018 with just 22 men, after Nikola Kalinic, the AC Milan striker, was sent home by the manager Zlatko Dali. Kalinic reportedly refused to come on as a substitute in Croatia's 2-0 win over Nigeria.

Considering the first result was satisfactory, Croatia doesn't need to change their starting XI, but the manager might think there is a bit of freshening up needed.

Expected starting XI:

Argentina: Willy Caballero; Gabriel Mercado, Nicolas Otamendi, Nicolas Tagliafico; Eduardo Salvio, Javier Mascherano, Maximiliano Meza, Marcos Acuna; Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero, Cristian Pavon.

Croatia: Danijel Subasic; Sime Vrsaljko, Dejan Lovren, Domagoj Vida, Ivan Strinic; Ivan Rakitic, Luka Modric; Marcelo Brozovic, Andrej Kramaric, Ivan Perisic; Mario Mandzukic.

FIFA World Cup 2018: Global live stream and TV listings

Singapore: StarHub TV and StarHub Go


USA: Fox and Telemundo

Russia: VGTRK

Middle East: Bein Sports