Tuesday, June 19, 2018 7:33 pm
Stung by his failure to avert a disappointing draw against Iceland, Argentina’s captain Lionel Messi would love to make amends in their World Cup Group D match against Croatia on Thursday.
But the Croatians go into the game in ebullient mood after a comfortable 2-0 win over Nigeria.
They would look to add to the frustrations of Messi who has failed to replicate the glories of his Barcelona career on the international stage.
Having led Argentina to an agonising final defeat by Germany four years ago, Messi who turns 31 in a few days may be playing his last World Cup.
He would need to win it to rival fellow great Diego Maradona for the eternal love of his compatriots.
Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic has unashamedly turned to midfielder Ivan Rakitic – a team mate of Messi’s at Barcelona – for ideas and tactics to stop him.
“I will use all the information I can,” he said, declaring Rakitic his temporary “assistant” before the game.
“There is no perfect way to stop Lionel Messi … he is the greatest player in the world.
“But while one excellent player can make a great result, a great team does the job much better … We will go into the game a little bit more relaxed than them.”
Those who followed closely Argentina’s shaky qualification for the World Cup were not so shocked by the result against Iceland.
They also do not expect the South Americans to roll over Croatia inspite their abundance of individual talent.
For reasons hard to fathom, they have looked ponderous and lacking in creative thrust throughout coach Jorge Sampaoli’s year in charge.
This is in spite boasting of Messi and other big names like Paulo Dybala, Gonzalo Higuain, Sergio Aguero and Angel Di Maria.
“We will learn from what happened and we have to have the strength to win the next game,” Sampaoli said after the Iceland defeat, seeking to stir his team into collective greatness.
Nevertheless, it is 32 years since Argentina last won the World Cup and 25 since their last silverware, the Copa America in 1993.
Croatia themselves are not short on top-quality players. As well as Rakitic, they also have the talented Luka Modric in midfield, and towering hitman Mario Madzukic up front.
With their strongest squad for years and in pole position in the group, Croatia dream of rivaling the glories of 1998.
They reached the World Cup semi-finals and finished third after a 2-1 win over the Netherlands in the playoff in France. (Reuters/NAN)