Nigeria v Argentina, Tuesday 26th June, 19:00
Few could have imagined the state of Group D after two rounds of matches. That Croatia are top is surprising, if not outlandish; that Argentina are bottom of the group is genuinely shocking. Anyone who witnessed their dire performance in their 3-0 loss to Croatia saw a team that hadn’t the head or heart to make anything happen in their favour. The shambolic nature of their performance convinced many that they were done and yet, hope is not lost. Should they beat Nigeria and Iceland lose or draw against Croatia, then they will progress. Whether they really want to or not is another matter entirely.
Nigeria were made a long price by the bookies in their match against Iceland but as the legs began to go from their European side, the Super Eagles went to work in devastating fashion. The disappointment of their opening game loss to Croatia was wiped away and the confidence which they had leading up to the tournament became apparent to all. The win was based on a change of personnel and style by the management and it worked a treat. Having seen the lack of speed in Argentina’s defence and midfield, they’ll back themselves to cause a huge upset and send Messi et al home with their tails between their legs.
Word is that Messi and Javier Mascherano have wrenched control from their hapless manager, Jorge Sampaoli, and will implement their own game plan for this do-or-die tie. The extent to which this is true is impossible to know but it’s clear that there is massive unrest in the camp; in truth, it would be a surprise if there wasn’t. What exactly the usurpers believe that they can do at this late stage is unknown but if their first two performances are to be any kind of yardstick for performance, they haven’t a chance. However, they do have a Messi and that is the one tool in their box that might be able to fix things.
You won’t be surprised to learn that the bookies make Argentina favourites but one wonders how exactly they’ve priced them so short, relative to their performances thus far. This column can’t see a draw as an outcome; should Nigeria blitz Argentina from the off and get a goal or two, the idea that Argentina’s heads won’t drop seems fanciful in the extreme and yet African side are currently being priced at 11/2 to win from Bet365. If you think that Messi can pull it from the fire, in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, then BetVictor’s price of 1/2 is the job for you. However, the smart money is on over 3.5 goals in a game that has the potential to be explosive.
Croatia’s Class Will Prove to Be Too Much for Plucky Iceland
Iceland v Croatia, Tuesday 26th June, 19:00
The wheels came off the wagon in spectacular style for Iceland in their 2-0 loss to Nigeria last week. This team’s strength lies in their ability to do all the basic things to a very high standard; remaining calm and disciplined when in & out of possession, maintaining their shape, converting a decent amount of their goal-scoring opportunities and excellent fitness levels. It was this latter aspect of their play that faltered in the second half against Nigeria and with that, their entire structure began to crumble. It was a sobering insight into the fragility of a side who had previously appeared so assured.
Croatia, by contrast, can probably lay claim to being the most impressive team of the tournament so far. Two wins from two isn’t exceptional but the manner of their performance against Argentina was beautifully brutal in its execution. A slightly different set-up from their opening game saw both Ivan Rakitic and Luka Modric play higher up the field and once again Modric was the maestro. A midfielder with few, if any, peers in the modern game, he has been the outstanding player of the tournament and is relishing the opportunity to replicate his club form on the world stage. There is little doubt that Croatia are harbouring hopes of a genuine shot at the title.
It will be interesting to see how Iceland fare in this game given the seismic shock their system suffered in their loss to Nigeria. There will be no change to the approach which has generally treated them so well but there will surely be doubts deep down that they can beat this Croatia team. By contrast, Modric and co. are justifiably on a high and, to them, Iceland are just another hurdle to clear. For all that, there is a price out there that’s longer than evens for a Croatia win and we just can’t see anything other than that.