By 90Min
June 20, 2018

So far, the 2018 World Cup has been short of heavyweight clashes, with only Spain vs. Portugal offering up the opportunity to see two of the tournament's heavyweights going head to head. 

With the quality of players on display in the Argentina and Croatia ranks, though, those with an appetite for world class players facing off against one another should be satisfied when the 2014 finalists and two time champions take on a 'golden generation' of Croatian players.

This being said, though, neither side really got out of first gear in their first match, with Croatia nudging aside a lethargic Nigeria, and Argentina being held to a draw by a plucky Iceland performance. Both sides now look to take control of Group D, and will have no better opportunity to do so than against one another.


Current Form

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Those who had followed Argentina closely prior to their draw with Iceland wouldn't have been surprised with how disjointed and lacking in confidence the South American giants looked in their opening fixture.

Despite an infamous 3-0 defeat to Brazil and a 1-0 home defeat to Paraguay among other questionable results, they just about had the character to get through their qualifying campaign, but followed it up with some inconsistent form in their warm-up friendlies - the worst of which manifesting itself in a 6-1 destruction at the hands of Spain. Put their patchy qualifying campaign and unconvincing friendlies together with their sub-par performance against Iceland, and Argentina are left with a lot to prove against Croatia.

Croatia have less to be concerned about, despite some similarly patchy form in their qualifying campaign. Defeats to Iceland and Turkey in qualifying left some worried, but they were able to bounce back and finish relatively strongly to win their group ahead of their eventual Group D compatriots. 

They won two and lost two, one of which against Brazil, of their warm-up friendlies, but a comfortable if un-emphatic win against Nigeria in their opening game will have settled the nerves somewhat.


World Cup Highlights

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Croatia have a surprisingly impressive history at World Cups when you consider they were a part of the umbrella Yugoslavia side until 1998. They have yet to top the heights they reached at France '98, however, as they went as far as the semi finals in their first tournament as an independent nation, eventually losing out to the hosts before beating the Netherlands in the third place play off.

Since then, they've only missed out on one World Cup finals, in 2010.

Argentina, of course, have a decorated and illustrious history at the tournament. They've won it twice, in 1978 and then most famously in 1986, as Maradona inspired them to their second World Cup triumph, featuring in one of the all-time classic finals as they got the better of West Germany by three goals to two in normal time.


Team News

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Argentina have no fresh injury concerns, but after a meek performance in the opening game, are expected to rotate their selection, as manager Jorge Sampaoli has done frequently, having never picked an unchanged starting XI as Argentina manager. 

The big news in the Croatia camp is that their 23 man squad has become 22 after Nikola Kalinic was sent home for refusing to come on as a sub against Nigeria. Beyond that, it's as you were.


Predicted Lineups

Argentina (3-5-2): Mercado, Otamendi, Tagliafico; Pavon, Mezza, Mascherano, Lo Celso, Acuna; Messi, Aguero

Croatia (4-2-3-1): Subasic; Vrsaljko, Lovren, Vida, Strnic; Rakitic, Modric; Perisic, Kovacic, Rebic; Mandzukic


Prediction

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This is a tough one to call. Man for man, across the pitch, it's hard to pick a clear winner. Normally a forward line with the quality of Messi and Sergio Aguero would be enough to edge it in Argentina's favour, but with neither having an impressive recent record for their country, even that can't be a clear deciding factor.

Croatia should win the midfield battle in this one, with the quality of Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic enough to overpower Mascherano, but given the importance of the fixture to Argentina, having dropped points in their first game, you have to back the big stage experience of Messi and co to edge it.

Prediction: Argentina 3-2 Croatia

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