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Dublin: 6 °C Friday 21 September, 2018
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Good evening and welcome to The42′s live minute-by-minute coverage of a Group D clash that has an absolutely unmissable feel to it.

Argentina v Croatia kicks off at 7pm in Nizhny Novgorod and if you’re not in front of a TV — and even if you are! — you can follow it all right here.

TEAM NEWS: First to Argentina — Jorge Sampaoli has made three changes to the side which drew 1-1 against Iceland last Saturday.

No Angel di Maria, who drops to the bench, and no Paulo Dybala who hasn’t done enough to force his way in, apparently.

Argentina: Caballero, Salvio, Mercado, Otamendi, Tagliafico, Perez, Mascherano, Meza, Acuna, Messi, Aguero.

TEAM NEWS: One change to the Croatian side which beat Nigeria — Marcelo Brozovic comes in for Andrej Kramaric.

Croatia: Subasic, Vrsaljko, Lovren, Vida, Strinic, Brozovic, Rakitic, Rebic, Perisic, Modric, Mandzukic.

Can we just take a moment for this Argentinian bench, please? Banega, Di Maria, Dybala and Higuain — there’s a quartet that would walk into most starting XIs.

Unless you’ve been living under a World Cup-resistant rock, you’ll know that the build up to this game around the globe has been monopolised by a focus on Lionel Messi. After Saturday’s missed penalty, the pressure on him to deliver tonight is incredible. Can he do it?

4Mins

A decent spell of early possession for the Argentines inside the opening four minutes. An early opportunity came and went as Nicolas Otamendi released Eduardo Salvio with Croatia at sixes and sevens at back. However the Man City defender’s pass was slightly overhit and bobbled out harmlessly for a goal kick.

9Mins

Chance! Ooooof Croatia nearly break the deadlock out of no-where. Argentina exposed at the back as Inter Milan’s Ivan Perisic snatches a shot which whisked ever so narrowly wide of the bottom corner. Wilfredo Caballero gets a touch to it, and it’s a massive let-off for his side.

9Mins

Again! A lofted ball from the right boot of Ivan Rakitic causes all sorts of problems inside the box. He picks out right-back Sime Vrsaljko, who’s volleyed cross is booted away at the very last second. Mario Mandzukic was lying in wait to prod that one home.

12Mins

Danijel Subasic is forced into a smart save at the other end. Enzo Perez pinged a pinpoint cross into the box, but the Croatia goalkeeper snatches the ball quickly — coming from his line as Lionel Messi and Maximiliano Meza stood completely unmarked waiting to strike.

17Mins

The game has really kicked into life now as it goes from end to end with high intensity. A late push on Enzo Perez causes all sorts of vocal jeers from the Argentine contingent, with the referee not deeming it not to be a foul. It’s feisty.

21Mins

A massive let-off for Argentina as Mario Mandzukic is penalised for a challenge on Nicolas Tagliafico inside the box. The defender was completely disorganised, not seeing the Juventus forward creeping up behind him.

The referee said the striker illegally shoved the defender, but Tagliafico will breath a massive sigh of relief as Mandzukic was clean through on goal with the last line of defence completely breached.

21Mins

25Mins

Croatia will be much the happier of the two sides with the opening 25 minutes here. Argentina and in particular Nicolas Otamendi have looked very nervous trying to play the ball around at the back and have been let off on more than one occasion.

Lionel Messi has had a quiet opening spell, and has been forced to drop a lot deeper than usual to try and get possession in order to get his side moving in the final third.

31Mins

CHANCE! Oh, goodness. Enzo Perez capitalises on a mistake by Ante Rebic, who passed the ball across his own goal — but the Argentine midfielder misses an open goal.

A series of calamitous errors saw the ball fall on a plate for Perez six yards out from goal, however he just couldn’t manage to steer it into the back of the net as he slips a side-footed effort wide of the post. It really, really should be 1-0.

33Mins

Two chances in quick succession! Firstly Lionel Messi capitalises on a poor kick-out from goalkeeper Danijel Subasic, who’s distribution is poor, but the Barcelona star’s long-range shot is caught.

At the other end Mario Mandzukic peels away from Javier Mascherano to get a free header off at the back post, but his diving effort flies agonisingly wide of the target.

Missed chances, missed chances everywhere!

35Mins

Nothing to separate the sides with ten minutes to go before half-time.

FIFA World Cup 2018 RussiaArgentina v Croatia Source: VI-Images via Getty Images

Argentina v Croatia: Group D - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia

FIFA World Cup 2018 RussiaArgentina v Croatia

39Mins

The game’s first yellow card is shown to Ante Rebic for a late, rash challenge just along the touchline.

41Mins

42Mins

Sergio Aguero almost clean through on goal but for a last-ditch Sime Vrsaljko sliding interception. The almost-chance was made possible thanks to Messi, who threaded an excellent through ball from nothing.

45Mins

There will be just two minutes of additional time to come at the end of the first half.

45Mins

CHANCE! Oh dear me that wasn’t great. Ante Rebic is played through on goal with a pass that split the Argentine defence in two. The midfielder’s pace lets him down though, as he is forced to cut back inside on his right boot before curling a woeful effort flying over the bar and into the stratosphere.

45Mins

Well, what did we make of that then? It hasn’t been great, let’s be honest. Plenty of nasty challenges and bad defending, but very few moments of quality.

With three points secured in their opening game, you’d have to imagine Croatia would be happy to settle for a point tonight. Argentina, however, badly need a win. Lionel Messi has been quiet after 45 minutes, as has his team.

Tough and scrappy so far.

45Mins

48Mins

No changes from either side at the break. As the RTÉ panel keenly observed in their half-time analysis, there are plenty of quality players out there on the pitch — they just aren’t doing a lot.

51Mins

A good time if ever to rewatch this brilliant if slightly bizarre pre-World Cup advertisement titled ‘Vamos Argentina’ which outlines the struggles of supporters following the national team.

Source: Leafy Was Here/YouTube

54Mins

DRAMA! Croatia storm into the lead and it’s an absolute howler from Willy Caballero. The goalkeeper received a routine back pass but tried to be clever with it, attempting to pass the ball back to his defender with a lob.

Ante Rebic was on hand to capitalise on the mistake, executing a stunning volley from close range which flew over the goalkeeper’s head and into the back of the net.

Wow!

58Mins

And in the midst of all that Argentina take off Sergio Aguero and bring Higuain on off the bench. They are under some serious, serious pressure now. If Lionel Messi’s men were to lose tonight, an Iceland victory over Nigeria tomorrow would send them out of the World Cup.

63Mins

And here’s the goal: a horrendous mistake from Caballero but take nothing away from Ante Rebic’s sweeping finish.

64Mins

CHANCE! Two in quick succession for Argentina — Maximiliano Meza gets on the end of Higuain’s cross at the front pot before Messi has a go, but goalkeeper Danijel Subasic managed to scoop both off the line in last ditch fashion. The tension is palpable!

67Mins

And another! This time it’s at the other end as Croatia seek to double their lead. The right back Sime Vrsaljko picks out Mandzukic’s untracked run inside the box — the Juventus man nicks a slight touch on the ball to force an effort on goal, but it only crashes into the side-netting. So very close.

71Mins

Dybala makes an immediate impact, but his strike from just inside the box curls over the crossbar. There has been a significant amount more urgency about Argentina since going behind, but they still don’t look overly impressive. They seem almost desperate.

74Mins

At the other end Croatia very neatly do grab a second. Once again there is a massive gap at the back for Argentina, which Vrsaljko duly exposes with a threaded through ball down the right flank.

Mario Mandzukic tries to call for a cross in order to set up a header at the back post, but Caballero snatches possession to end the danger.

80Mins

Sampaoli’s side are just sending cross after cross into the box, but there is just no cutting edge to their play in the final third at the moment. Croatia happy to play containment football with the clock running down.

Significantly, they almost look the more likely to score with a well-drilled defence and a promising counter-attack cutting Otamendi, Mercado and Tagliafico to pieces each and every time.

82Mins

INCREDIBLE! Croatia have doubled their lead with ten minutes to go! Luka Modric twists and turns his marker 25 yards out before slamming a stunning effort flying into the back of the net. Lionel Messi looks distraught.

85Mins

Argentina won’t officially go out tonight even with a defeat, but if Iceland beat Nigeria tomorrow afternoon and things stay as they are here — Jorge Sampaoli’s side are going home.

86Mins

CROSSBAR! Almost a third for Croatia as Ivan Rakitic curls a sublime free-kick from distance which crashes off the topmost corner of the woodwork before flying away. Goodness me.

90Mins

IT’S THREE! Croatia carve Argentina apart on the counter, Ivan Rakitic swaps possession with Mateo Kovacic before slipping the ball into an empty net as Messi’s side fall apart. What an upset!

About the author:

Aaron Gallagher

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