Argentina and Croatia will square off on Thursday afternoon in a meeting of the likely top two sides within Group D.
Argentina are coming off yet another disappointment on the world stage, when they surprisingly drew to Iceland. Lionel Messi looked good and created a ton of chances, but there wasn’t much support from his peers. The Argentinians will need to respond in their second clash here, but it won’t be easy against a Croatian side that cruised through a speedy Nigerian squad.
Croatia dominated their African counterparts on the weekend. They were better in every facet, and never really seemed threatened by some of the pace and skill the Nigerians possess. They controlled the midfield and executed when they needed to. They’re a legitimate threat in this group, and it makes this match-up all the more intriguing. Read on below the odds for a full match preview, and tactical breakdown of what should be a thrilling Group D encounter.
Argentina vs. Croatia Betting Odds:
Over 2.5 (+115)
Under 2.5 (-135)
Argentina vs. Croatia Pick:
When the odds were initially released for this big Group D showdown, I was surprised to see the discrepancy between Argentina and Croatia. The lines would indicate there is quite the difference between these two groups, though I’m not so certain that is the case.
Argentina’s manager Jorge Sampaoli should be considering making some changes to his lineup after their underwhelming showdown against Iceland. They struggled with their linkage between skill players, and really couldn’t muster all that much to break down the heralded Icelandic wall at the back. Outside of Lionel Messi, Argentina had very little punch going forward and it was startling to see a side with this type of talent struggle against a defensive-minded Iceland group. Croatia will offer a lot more, and if the Argentinians aren’t careful – qualification could become iffy.
Look for Sampaoli to sacrifice a man at the back for more offense going forward and fluidity in attack. Marcus Rojo was not all that good against Iceland, and look for Argentina to add in an additional attacking midfielder to pair with Messi.
Croatia however should be able to counteract much of what Argentina can do. They played quite well vs. Nigeria and if they can play a similar game, they’ll be pushing for a deep run at Russia 2018. Much of their team news in between matches however has surrounded the disciplinary action of Nikola Kalinic who is now excluded from the squad.
Against Argentina, look for the Croatians to try for a little more solidity within their midfield. Marcelo Brozovic will likely be entering the lineup and he should do a good job shadowing Angel di Maria and providing a ball-winning presence for the Croatians. Mario Mandzukic will continue to play a lead role in attack, while Dejan Lovren and Domagoj Vida are capable to stifle Argentina’s creativity.
While Argentina did many good things against Iceland in their opening match, it remains to be seen if those changes can be made in short order. Croatia is a better side – strong at the back and a lethal attack up front. I think the Croatians will play hard for a draw, and don’t be surprised if they surprise once more and get at least that against Argentina.
MY PICK = Croatia +0.5 (-123)