Unimpressive Argentia to face confident Croatia in Group D
Maybe it’s the Russian air that stifled Argentina’s attack game. But their surprising draw has left them down points, surrendering advantage of points in Group D play to none other than their next opponent: Croatia.
Opening Round Oops
Oh, Argentina. The two-time world champions. Better known recently as Messi & Co. Well, the & Co. showed up in Argentina’s first game against Iceland, but Messi and the midfield definitely underperformed. Forget that Messi was denied on a penalty kick. Forget that the final score was 1-1. Argentina’s lone goal came in the 19th minute. And Iceland’s goal came in the 23rd. That’s a lot of dry soccer time. While no one should have been surprised by Argentina’s defense, the offensive no-show came as a shock.
Meanwhile, Croatia put away Nigeria, 2-0. But it wasn’t so much what Croatia did. Sure they put away two goals but let’s face it, one was an own-goal and the other was off a penalty kick. The match left us far from convinced that this is truly world class soccer.
Argentina: What to Expect
Maybe it was the Messi-effect, but there was no shortage of hype around the South Americans in all the pre-tournament write ups. Yes, Barcelona forward Lionel Messi is on the Argentina squad. But there’s more than “M”essi in T-E-A-M.
There’s also a struggling “m”idfield. Javier Mascherano and Lucas Biglia started for the squad but the pair obviously didn’t produce. And Ever Banega later replaced Biglia, the Milan center mid. So there’s a chance that Giovani Lo Celso or Enzo Perez—less likely—take one or both spots to connect the attackers and the defenders.
You will likely see several changes from Jorge Sampaoli if he’s looking to stay alive beyond group play in Russia.
Croatia: What to Expect
As Croatia midfielder Mateo Kovacic told reporters leading up to the match, Croatia is more than just one man.
“We do not need to be too afraid of Argentina,” he said. “We are singularly better than them, except Messi. So we should behave and look at ourselves, not others.”
Kovacic and Croatian teammate Luka Modric both play for Real Madrid and Ivan Rakitic and Mario Mandzukic play for Barcelona and Juventus, respectively.
Look, the World Cup is full of world-class talent. It’s why we watch. But what really matters here is that Croatia is finding the net. They’ve scored in their last five World Cup games, which is the longest scoring streak among active competitors.
Kovacic may not be wrong. When Messi came up dry—11 of his shots failed to find the net—so did Argentina. The two will face off at Nizhny Novgorod Stadium on Thursday. But don’t get too caught up in Croatia’s opening round win. It’s their first in 20 years. And although Croatia leads Argentina by two points, there’s something to watch for in a sleeping bear like the South Americans.