Weblog: The football punter

Lionel Messi's Argentina could flop again

World Cup Group D
BBC1, 7pm Thursday

Argentina do not seem to have progressed since their struggles in World Cup qualifying and their chances of reaching the last 16 could suffer another blow against Croatia in Nizhny Novgorod.

When the World Cup draw was made the Albiceleste's contest with Croatia stood out as one of the best ties of the group stage.

This match has become even more important for Argentina since they were held to a 1-1 draw by Iceland, rated Group D's worst team, on Saturday, and the best bet could be that they drop points again.

Argentina head coach Jorge Sampaoli is contemplating changes to system and personnel following their disappointing opening result.

A switch to a back three – a formation favoured during his four-year spell in charge of the Chilean national team - is thought to be under consideration, and pacy winger Cristian Pavon is among the players pushing for promotion from the bench.

But Argentina played with a back three without much success during South American qualifying and Sampaoli seems to be running out of time in his efforts to get the most from a talented but unbalanced group of players.

Croatia head coach Zlatko Dalic is also mulling over a tactical adjustment and is widely expected to axe at least one of his wide attacking players - Ante Rebic or Andrej Kramaric - and include an extra midfielder.

But Dalic's decision is being made from a position of strength after Croatia cruised to a 2-0 victory over Nigeria in Kaliningrad.

Croatia were not at their best against Nigeria and got little credit for the win despite looking in complete control from the moment Oghenekaro Etebo's 32nd-minute own goal put them ahead.

Nigeria looked disjointed and toothless but Croatia did what was required and could have added gloss to the scoreline had they been more clinical on the counter-attack.

Adding an extra midfielder – either Marcelo Brozovic or Mateo Kovacic – should give them a better balance, allowing Luka Modric to influence the game further forward.

It should mean that Argentina have less control of the midfield area than they had against Iceland. They won the possession statistics 78 per cent to 22 in that game but failed to create many clear-cut chances against Iceland and needed a brilliant individual goal from Sergio Aguero to get on the scoresheet.

With Aguero and Lionel Messi in the side, Argentina are always going to offer a huge threat in attack.

But Argentina have managed just one win in their last six competitive games, and as good as they might look on paper, their push for a knockout stage berth may be heading for a photo-finish.

Croatia or draw double chance

The Football Site

Like on Facebook

Google +1


Match in Focus

20:00 Tu 23Oct BT2

Man Utd v Juventus

Home WinDrawAway Win
Key stats
  • United have lost only three of their last 22 European matches
Expert verdict
The return of Cristiano Ronaldo to Old Trafford will grab all of the headlines but Manchester United should be able to hold their own against Juventus. Confidence will have been restored by the manner of the performance in the 2-2 draw at Chelsea and United remain a tough nut to crack in European home encounters.