Argentina was expected to win Group D in the World Cup, but Lionel Messi & Co. were very disappointing in a 1-1 draw to open the tournament vs. Iceland. A loss to Croatia on Thursday all but ends Argentina’s chance to win the group, but it is favored on the soccer odds at MyBookie Sportsbook.
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Argentina vs. Croatia 2018 World Cup Lines & Expert Prediction
— Team Messi (@TeamMessi) 16 de junio de 2018
- When: Thursday, 2 PM ET
- Where: Nizhny Novgorod Stadium, Nizhny Novgorod, Russia
- TV / Stream: Fox / Fox Sports Go
- 2018 World Cup Lines: Argentina -102, Croatia +270, Draw+215 (2.5)
Why Bet on Argentina?
- Confederation: CONMEBOL
- Head coach: Jorge Sampaoli
- Captain: Lionel Messi
- FIFA Ranking: 5
They figure to play with some urgency after the 1-1 draw with Iceland, the smallest country to ever qualify for the World Cup. Sergio Aguero opened the scoring after just 19 minutes with a brilliant finish, the Manchester City striker’s first goal at the World Cup in his third tournament.
Lionel Messi hasn’t been quite the superstar in his World Cup history and had a penalty kick saved in the 63rd minute. It was the first time the Barcelona playmaker had ever missed a spot-kick for his country. Then, nine minutes from the end, Messi curled a superb strike narrowly wide from the edge of the D, and Argentina threw Gonzalo Higuain into the fray as they pressed for a late winner but they couldn’t find the net.
Messi had 11 shots in total in this match, more than he’s had in any of his previous appearances at the World Cup. Argentina has missed their last two penalties taken at a World Cup (excluding shoot-outs), with Ariel Ortega failing to convert against Sweden in 2002 before Messi’s effort vs. Iceland.
The 30-year-old Messi, who said this week that Argentina’s results in this tournament would decide if he comes back to play in 2022, took the blame after Argentina settled for one point. Messi has struggled from the spot in recent months, missing five of his past 10 attempts for Barcelona and Argentina.
“It hurts me to have missed the penalty because it was the decisive advantage,” Messi said. “I feel responsible for not having been able to take the three points. I have no doubt that a goal from the penalty kick would have changed everything.”
Argentina failed to win their opening match at a World Cup tournament for the first time since losing to Cameroon in 1990. They eventually reached the final of that edition, losing out to West Germany. Scoring has been a problem for a while as Argentina managed just 19 goals in the South American qualifiers, the lowest by a qualifying team since the single-group format was adopted ahead of the 1998 finals.
Look for big changes in the lineup here for Argentina. During practice this week, coach Jorge Sampaoli tested a system with three central defenders: Gabriel Mercado, Nicolas Otamendi, and Nicolas Tagliafico. Mercado was replacing Marcos Rojo, who put in a poor performance against Iceland in a line of four defenders.
The other notable change in training was that the coach dropped midfielders Lucas Biglia and Angel Di Maria, who also failed to impress in the draw on Saturday. Sampaoli switched Biglia for Marcos Acuna, who was playing on the left wing. Javier Mascherano will remain as a defensive midfielder, while right-back Eduardo Salvio was being pushed up as a wing-back.
- 23-W. Caballero
- 14-J. Mascherano
- 17-N. Otamendi
- 16-M. Rojo
- 3-N. Tagliafico
- 5-L. Biglia
- 11-Á. Di María
- 7-E. Banega
- 22-C. Pavón
- 10-L. Messi
- 19-S. Agüero
Why Bet on Croatia?
- Confederation: UEFA
- Head coach: Zlatko Dalić
- Captain: Luka Modrić
- FIFA Ranking: 20
Croatia beat Nigeria 2-0 to open the tournament with an own goal from Oghenekaro Etebo and a penalty from Luka Modric. Zlatko Dalic’s side took the lead in fortunate circumstances when Mario Mandzukic’s 32nd-minute header from a Modric corner was deflected into his own net by the unfortunate Etebo. Modric secured the win from the penalty spot 19 minutes from time after William Troost-Ekong needlessly fouled Mandzukic at a corner.
That Croatia failed to score on their own from open play was a testament to some wayward shooting. While dominating for long periods, they struggled to penetrate the Nigerian defense and failed repeatedly to find the target with speculative shots from well outside the penalty area.
Croatia has won their opening game of a World Cup for the first time since their debut in the competition in 1998 (3-1 vs Jamaica). Croatia has scored in each of their last five World Cup games, their longest scoring streak in the competition. Finally, Croatia’s opening goals at each of the last two World Cups have been own goals — Marcelo in 2014 (Brazil) and Etebo.
Here’s Modric about his tactical role against Nigeria in the opening game, and whether it will be any different against Argentina: “We played as a team, we were very compact against Nigeria. We have to do the same against Argentina. Yes, I played as a defensive midfielder and I like that position, but of course, I will adapt to all the options that the coach comes up with.”
The news wasn’t all good for Croatia as the team sent home striker Nikola Kalinic after he refused to come on as a substitute in the opening game. Dalic said Kalinic warmed up but could not play due to a “back issue” – but after the same happened in a friendly against Brazil, the manager pulled the plug on the 30-year-old’s tournament. The news comes amid apparent transfer talks between AC Milan, Kalinic’s current club team, and Sevilla.
These two sides have met four times, with two wins for Argentina, one for Croatia and one draw. They last played in a 2014 friendly that Argentina won 2-1.
- 23-D. Subašić
- 21-D. Vida
- 3-I. Strinić
- 6-D. Lovren
- 2-Š. Vrsaljko
- 10-L. Modrić
- 7-I. Rakitić
- 4-I. Perišić
- 17-M. Mandžukić
- 9-A. Kramarić
- 18-A. Rebić
Expert Final Prediction
Argentina 3 – Croatia 2