The tale of Iceland’s meteoric rise to the footballing elite continues to improve. The tiny nation in northern Europe qualified for their first ever major international tournament two years ago, shocking the continent as they made it through the group stages before beating England in the knockout rounds.
They have proven they aren’t just a one hit wonder though, and in the process healed some of those humiliating scars for England. They out qualified Croatia to top their World Cup qualifying group, and in their first ever World Cup match they faced off against the might of Argentina.
The South American giants were expected to have a comfortable afternoon on Saturday, but it turned out to be anything but. They went ahead fairly early on thanks to a typical Sergio Aguero goal, but Iceland didn’t let their heads drop and equalised within five minutes. The remaining 75 minutes saw Argentina held firm by their opponents, and they were semi regularly rattled at the back as well. In the end it was a dismal 1-1 draw they came away with, a result which undoubtedly has the Argentine faithful baying for blood.
Croatia, meanwhile, had a much more comfortable Saturday evening. They faced off with a frustratingly inconsistent Nigeria side, and it was a less than impressive display from the Africans. They deservedly lost that game 2-0, never truly threatening the Croatia defence and cementing them to the bottom of the group.
This puts Croatia in a fantastic position as well. They know that a draw against Argentina would leave them in prime position to claim the top spot in their World Cup group, just needing to beat Iceland in their final group game to seal first place and the more favourable knockout draw that it promises.
To be honest, a draw against Argentina is by no means a far fetched prediction. The bookies have priced Argentina as strong favourites, but they have won just four of their last ten matches and have been well beaten by both Nigeria and Spain. The latter of these was a 6-1 demolition, and it seems like this collection of world class players simply cannot function as a team at the moment.
Croatia, on the other hand, have lost just two of their last nine outings, and they haven’t lost any of their last five major tournament games within the 90 minutes. This includes victories against Spain and Turkey and their disappointing extra time loss to Portugal, so they certainly have the ability to withstand pressure.
On the balance of things, we like the look of a Croatia Win or Draw Double Chance. They know that a draw is enough to put them in the driving seat and could well play for that, but they will be more than a little tempted to try and take advantage of the Argentina back line. They looked incredibly shaky at times against Iceland, and it’s unlikely to get any easier when facing this world class midfield. We’re backing Croatia Over 1.5 Team Goals, along with a 2-2 correct score predictions.
Mario Mandzukic will be relishing the chance of coming up against this defence. The Juventus forward has scored 30 goals in his 84 Croatia caps and loves the big games, so we think he’s a good shout for our anytime goalscorer predictions.
Argentina Predicted Lineup: Caballero, Mercado, Otamendi, Tagliafico, Salvio, Acuna, Perez, Mascherano, Messi, Aguero Pavon
Croatia Predicted Lineup: Subasic, Vrsaljko, Lovren, Vida, Strinic, Rakitic, Brozovic, Perisic, Modric, Rebic, Mandzukic
Argentina and Croatia have met one another four times, with the South Americans winning twice, drawing once, and losing once. The last of these was a 2014 friendly, and their only competitive meeting to date was in the 1998 World Cup group stages.
It’s rumoured that Jorge Sampaoli will make some drastic changes after the disappointment of Saturday, with Angel Di Maria, Maximiliano Meza, Lucas Biglia, and Marcos Rojo dropping out and Marcos Acuna, Enzo Perez, Cristian Pavon, and Gabriel Mercado coming in as Argentina switch to a three man back line.
Midfielder Marcelo Brozovic is expected to come in and replace Andrej Kramaric, but apart from that Croatia are unlikely to make changes from the team that beat Nigeria on Saturday.