Argentina look to rebound from a poor performance in a draw against Iceland, but they face their toughest test in the group, Croatia. The Croats beat Nigeria 2-0 in their opening game and look to be a formidable force for Argentina. Lionel Messi must be at his devastating best to unsettle them.
Argentina v Croatia: Messi Must Shine
Argentina looked disorganised in their first game. No real cohesion or plan, just get the ball to Messi and hope it sticks. Most opportunities came from individual brilliance or good fortune. Their goal was an errant Marcos Rojo shot that Kun Aguero cleaned up and finished nicely. The penalty Messi missed came from a nothing ball and a shove in the back.
Fortune is necessary in any World Cup run. However, it was Argentina versus Iceland, one would expect Argentina to have created more. They’re going to need more tenacity in midfield to make any type of run. Someone like Giovani Lo Celso could provide that, hopefully Sampaoli uses him soon.
However, even if he does opt to reinforce the midfield, it may not make a difference. Croatia have one of the best midfield groups in the tournament. In their first game against Nigeria they started Ivan Rakitic and Luka Modric in a double pivot. A very attacking look. However, they failed to control the Nigerian game. They squandered many chances too.
They dominated the possession against Iceland but failed to convert any opportunities. That was Iceland’s game plan all along, Croatia will be different. Croatia will be more willing to attack Argentina both in possession and on the counter. Which could work in Argentina’s favour.
With more space to attack, players like Messi, Aguero, and Di Maria will shine. Messi and Di Maria need to improve. Perhaps even benching Di Maria. Replacing him with Christian Pavon could be an option. Argentina would thus have a fresh outlet to accompany Messi, freeing him to finish their attacks.
Argentina need to give Messi the support that they failed to in game one. There were too many times where, when he was on the ball, those around him stopped moving into space. That cannot happen again. Opting for younger players like Lo Celso or Pavon could be the answer.
The Croatians know that if they give Argentina as many chances as they did Nigeria, they will lose the game. Despite their struggles, Argentina will be better at converting their opportunities. With centre-backs like Lovern & Vida, you can guarantee there will be chances.
In order to minimize those chances, Croatia will look to dominate the midfield. Their key could be adding Mateo Kovacic to the Rakitic & Modric pairing. The three could dominate Argentina’s midfield, thus controling the game. They would still be vulnerable on the counter, but that’s the Dejan Lovren risk.
The Last Word
This should be the best game of the group. Two sides that know how to attack, and need it to be successful. Not to mention two backlines that have yet to pass many tests. It should make for an end-to-end exciting and entertaining game.