Argentina and Croatia meet Thursday in one of the top matchups of the group stage. It’s a meeting of Barcelona teammates, as Lionel Messi and Ivan Rakitic will each be looking to lead their team into the next round of the World Cup.
Argentina vs. Croatia Squads
It was disappointment for Argentina in the opener, as they were unable to crack Iceland’s defense and finished with a 1-1 draw. The result was there for the taking, but Lionel Messi missed a penalty shot to put Argentina ahead. Messi was held scoreless despite taking 11 shots, the most for a goalless player since 1974.
After the final whistle, Messi stayed stoic on the pitch, soaking in the moment of disappointment. After the game, he couldn’t have taken the result any harder.
“I am responsible for what happened,” he told media after the game.
The day after the match, while Argentina held a team barbecue, Messi stayed in his room alone.
This is not the Messi that can bring Argentina to World Cup glory. While Ronaldo has four goals and is leading Portugal to six points, Messi is sitting by himself, contemplating his lack of success in big moments. It’s a striking contrast for the two best players in the game.
Messi needs to get right immediately for Argentina to advance in this competition. Of course his team will continue to play around him, but manager Jorge Sampaoli is considering changes to his squad before their second match.
“The changes I make might reflect a change in system which might give us an added level of flexibility,” Sampaoli said earlier this week. “What is most important for us is to be solid at the back so we can develop our attacks smoothly. We’re also looking to be more efficient in the penalty box.”
“The idea is to find space in which Messi doesn’t find himself surrounded. That’s one of the main ideas we have as a team,” he explained.
One player that could create space for Messi is Cristian Pavon. The Boca Juniors winger has never started for Argentina, but looked dangerous coming on as a sub against Iceland. He only made his national team debut in November, and the 20-year old could be linked to the biggest of clubs with a few good performances.
For Croatia, the mood of the game will be near-opposite. Because Croatia carry three points into Thursday, manager Zlatko Dali has told his team to play without any concern about the result.
“The match against Argentina is the easiest game for us at the World Cup because we have three points and we play against a big opponent,” he said. “We have nothing to lose in that game. I’ll tell my players before the start of the game just to enjoy the spectacle.”
One player who won’t be enjoying the spectacle is Croatian striker Nikola Kalinić, who plays his club football in Italy. Kalinic has been dealing with a back injury, and was sent home after refusing to come on as a substitute in his team’s opener against Nigeria.
Argentina vs. Croatia Lineups
Lineups are released one hour before kickoff
Argentina: Caballero, Mercado, Otamendi, Tagliafico, Salvio, Mascherano, Perez, Acuna, Messi, Meza, Aguero
Croatia: Subasic, Vrsaljko, Strinic, Perisic, Lovren, Rakitic, Modric, Bozovic, Mandzukic, Rebic, Vida