FIFA World Cup 2018: Argentina rally behind Messi ahead of crucial Croatia clash

20 June 2018, 04:05 PM
FIFA World Cup: Argentina rally behind Messi ahead of Crotia match
FIFA World Cup: Argentina rally behind Messi ahead of Crotia match

Argentina are preparing for the FIFA World Cup 2018 around skipper Lionel Messi as the South American giants prepare for their crucial Group D clash with Croatia at Nizhniy Novgorod.

Messi and co. made a stumbling start to the World Cup on Saturday, missing what would have been a winning penalty as Argentina were held to a shock 1-1 draw by minnows Iceland.

Another shock outcome on Thursday may make many start to consider the unthinkable - that Argentina could be on their way out from the group stage, repeating their first round exit in 2002 World Cup. 

Argentine legend Diego Maradona termed the Iceland result a 'disgrace' and warned coach Jorge Sampaoli to change the tactics as Argentina cannot go on with performances like the one against minnows Iceland.   

However, La Albiceleste's players have been quick to show their support to the Barcelona megastar. 

"We are all with him, he knows that he can count on the support of all of us more than ever," said Argentina striker Paulo Dybala.

"We are here to help him every moment, and of course we will be at his side," Dybala added.

Defender Cristian Ansaldi meanwhile insisted Messi was in good spirits despite the Iceland setback.

"We all know what Messi represents to our team and to our country," Ansaldi said. 

"Not only is he the best player in the world on the pitch, he is also best player off the field. He's in good shape and that's good for us." 

Coach Jorge Sampaoli is reportedly considering many changes for the game against Croaita, including young forward Cristian Pavon for Angel Di Maria. Similarly in midfield, PSG's Giovani Lo Celso could be handed a starting at the expense of Lucas Biglia.

Their jobs would be to supply Messi and Sergio Aguero with the kind of service on which they would excel in a potential 3-3-3-1 formation.

Meanwhile, Croatia had secured important three points in their 2-0 win against Nigeria in their opening game after coming into the tournament under cloud, with Luka Modric charged with perjury in a corruption scandal which rocked the Croatian football.

Now, Croatian striker Nikola Kalinic has left Russia due to a back injury, said coach Zlatko Dalic, but reports are surfacing that he had refused to come on as a late substitution after being left out of the starting line-up.

Off-field troubles may not have affected their performance as they are expected to field an unchanged team, which includes Messi' Barcelona teammate Ivan Rakitic.

Both Argentina and Croatia have met only once in the World Cup, in 1998, when Argentina won 1-0 and were the only team that year to prevent Golden Boot winner Davor Suker from scoring. 

First Published: Wednesday, June 20, 2018 03:37 PM
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