WORLD CUP GROUP D PREVIEW: Argentina vs Croatia

Argentina will certainly feel like they must defeat Croatia at the Nizhny Novgorod Stadium on Thursday night to avoid risking a shock group stage exit from the 2018 World Cup in Russia after being held to an unexpected 1-1 draw in their opener against Iceland.

The anticipated fixture falls a day before Iceland’s match against Nigeria as Group D gets down to the nitty gritty following the surprise result on Saturday.

Sergio Agüero opened the scoring in fine fashion just before the 20-minute mark before Alfred Finnbogason netted an unthinkable equaliser, Iceland’s first World Cup goal, shortly afterwards.

Lionel Messi’s penalty miss seemed to snatch any kind of momentum from both the 30-year-old and his Argentina team-mates as Hannes Halldorsson and scorer of the equaliser Finnbogason proved to be the heroes of the day.

Croatia, meanwhile, got their campaign off to a strong start by beating Nigeria 2-0 in Kaliningrad, despite a fairly flat performance which was only brought to life through an Oghenekaro Etebo own-goal.

Luka Modric scored a 71st-minute penalty to secure all three points and send Croatia to the top of Group D, but a vastly-improved showing will be needed if they are to ultimately send Argentina packing on Thursday.

The key battle to look out for in Nizhny Novgorod is between familiar foes Sergio Agüero of Argentina and Dejan Lovren of Croatia in what will be the first time the two players have met on the international stage.

cAfter battling for many years with Manchester City and Liverpool in the Premier League, this could be the most important one yet with such big implications for both the winner and loser.

Lovren won’t just have Agüero to think about, but also the world’s best player Lionel Messi as part of a frightening attack – but he’ll have hope to come out on top knowing that the duo (kind of) failed to live up to expectations in gameweek one.

After Cristiano Ronaldo put on a phenomenal display to score a hatrick against Spain in Portugal’s tournament opener, all the pressure is on Messi to light up the pitch and match his long-term rival’s successes.

His rare poor contribution to the Iceland match will surely prompt a reaction, which is bad news for Croatia, and playing in a no. 10 role behind the strikers will get him in the thick of things much easier than on the wing.

 Jorge Sampaoli is expected to ring the changes to his South American side going into such an important match which could lead to a change in formation to resort to a back three in defence.

Croatia could potentially use a 4-3-3 rather than a 4-2-3-1 to assert more control in midfield against Argentina’s potent attacking threat, but it’s more likely that manager Zlatko Dalic will stick with the latter while making a few changes.

Predicted Line-ups

Argentina (3-4-1-2): Caballero; Mercado, Otamendi, Tagliafico; Salvio, Mascherano, Pérez, Acuna; Messi; Pavon, Agüero.

Croatia (4-2-3-1): Subasic; Vrsaljko, Lovren, Vida, Strinic; Rakitic, Brozovic; Perisic, Modric, Rebic; Mandzukic.