MOSCOw. – Argentina head into their second World Cup match against Croatia tonight knowing they are already facing a potentially decisive 90 minutes in their quest for glory.
The match kicks-off at 8pm.
Jorge Sampaoli’s side were held to a 1-1 draw in their opening game by tournament debutants Iceland, with Lionel Messi seeing a crucial penalty saved in that stalemate in Moscow.
The pressure is starting to mount on Messi in particular. He managed 11 shots against Iceland without scoring and has not hit the back of the net at the World Cup with any of his last 21 attempts. Suggestions of an over-reliance on the Barcelona star have dogged Argentina for many years, but “Messidependencia” claims have grown louder ever since they were thrashed 6-1 by Spain in a friendly in March while their talisman watched on injured. Defender Gabriel Mercado says it is time for the rest of the team to stand up and be counted, starting tonight in Nizhny Novgorod.
“It’s almost impossible not to think about him and not giving him the ball,” he told FIFA.com.
“But in reality, this is a team game and we have to take the responsibility of our part, to free him up and let him be the one finishing the play.”
Croatia lost 1-0 to Argentina in a group game at France ‘98 but arguably head into this meeting as favourites, having claimed a comfortable opening win over Nigeria.
That said, their preparations have been hampered by the loss of Nikola Kalinic, who has been sent home with an apparent back injury after telling coach Zlatko Dalic he could not come off the bench against Nigeria. For Luka Modric, the emphasis must be on the unity of the team, as they go in search of a win that could put them in the last 16.
“We played as a team, we were very compact against Nigeria,” he said simply. “We have to do the same thing against Argentina.”