Though they boast one of the best attacking sides at the Russian 2018 World Cup, Argentina were held to a 1-1 draw by Iceland in their opening match as they struggled to dominate proceedings against their opponents, who were making their tournament debut and are the smallest nation to qualify for the finals. Finishing top of Group D is now in doubt given that Croatia comfortably beat Nigeria 2-0 and lead the way by two points.
The top two meet on Thursday night in Nizhny Novgorod and this really has become a crunch fixture for the South Americans. Anything but victory would put their progression in doubt and make Argentina against Nigeria on matchday three a must-win.
Jorge Sampaoli has some of the best players in the world at his disposal and he will be looking for Lionel Messi – his captain – to make an impact in Russia having struggled against Iceland; the 30-year-old will have seen the influence that Cristiano Ronaldo, with four goals, has had on the Portugal side, as well as ruing his own penalty miss.
Croatia will not be straightforward opponents, though, and they have long been one of the most technically gifted European sides, boasting Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitić in midfield, though they are down to 22 players after Nikola Kalinić, the Milan forward, was sent home after allegedly refusing to come on as a substitute against Nigeria.
Zlatko Dalić’s squad qualified for the World Cup through the play-offs in a group that was won by Iceland but they undoubtedly have the talent to top Group D and, in the process, derail Argentina’s dreams – the South Americans were unimpressive in their CONMEBOL fixtures and snuck through on the final matchday.
Regardless, Messi and co are considered the stronger side with Tipbet for three points and are offered at 2.15 to outright win and leapfrog Croatia in the Group D standings. They are also 3.60 to be leading at both half-time and full-time, but their opponents have the potential to do damage in the final third and are 3.75 to build on their opening win.