Argentina head into their second World Cup match against Croatia knowing they are already facing potentially a decisive 90 minutes in their quest for glory.
Jorge Sampaoli's side were held to a 1-1 draw in their opening game by tournament debutants Iceland, with Lionel Messi seeing a crucial penalty saved in that stalemate in Moscow.
The pressure is starting to mount on Messi in particular. He managed 11 shots against Iceland without scoring and has not hit the back of the net at the World Cup with any of his last 21 attempts.
Suggestions of an over-reliance on the Barcelona star have dogged Argentina for many years, but 'Messidependencia' claims have grown louder ever since they were thrashed 6-1 by Spain in a friendly in March while their talisman watched on injured.
Defender Gabriel Mercado says it is time for the rest of the team to stand up and be counted, starting on Thursday in Nizhny Novgorod.
"It's almost impossible not to think about him and not giving him the ball," he told FIFA.com. "But in reality, this is a team game and we have to take the responsibility of our part, to free him up and let him be the one finishing the play."
Croatia lost 1-0 to Argentina in a group game at France '98 but arguably head into this meeting as favourites, having claimed a comfortable opening win over Nigeria.
That said, their preparations have been hampered by the loss of Nikola Kalinic, who has been sent home with an apparent back injury after telling coach Zlatko Dalic he could not come off the bench against Nigeria.
For Luka Modric, the emphasis must be on the unity of the team, as they go in search of a win that could put them in the last 16.
"We played as a team, we were very compact against Nigeria," he said simply. "We have to do the same thing against Argentina."
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Argentina – Eduardo Salvio
Nobody covered more ground while in possession against Iceland than 'Toto' Salvio, the Benfica winger converted to right-back under Sampaoli. He is a real weapon down the wing, especially when players are drawn centrally to crowd out Messi, and could be a pivotal supply line to Argentina's centre-forward (most likely Sergio Aguero).
Croatia – Andrej Kramaric
Kramaric played as a number 10 against Nigeria, behind Mario Mandzukic, and it could prove a key position against Argentina if Dalic keeps the same system. Not only will he be important in providing attacking support to the Juventus forward, he will also be needed to add an extra presence in midfield to keep Messi as far from the ball as possible.
KEY OPTA STATS
- This will be the fifth meeting between Argentina and Croatia, with the South Americans winning twice to Croatia's one (D1).
- Croatia have lost all four of their World Cup meetings with South American sides, once in each of the four tournaments they have played in.
- Lionel Messi has scored in each of his two previous appearances against Croatia, including his first ever goal for Argentina (March 2006).
- Croatia have scored in each of their last five World Cup games, their longest such streak in the competition.
- Croatia defender Vedran Corluka has made 99 appearances for his country. If he plays in this game, he will be the second member of their 2018 World Cup squad to earn 100 caps for Croatia (after Luka Modric).
17 de febrero 2019
|Swansea City 4 Brentford 1: James-inspired turnaround books quarter-final berth|
|Doncaster Rovers 0 Crystal Palace 2: Eagles ease into FA Cup´s last eight|
|Windies star Gayle to retire from ODIs after World Cup|
|Wenger backs Henry to bounce back|
|20-0! Seven-man crisis club Pro Piacenza thrashed in Serie C farce|
|Monfils holds off Wawrinka for Rotterdam title|
|Walker hat-trick gets Rhinos up and running|
|Ramos red card an ´occupational hazard´, says Solari|
|Dan Carter to make Racing 92 return|
|Ashton ruled out for Wales clash|
|Nuno hails cup win as ´moment of joy´|
|Marcelo v Reguilon: Real Madrid mainstay losing left-back battle|
|Marcelo is an institution - Eusebio denies targeting Real Madrid left-back|
|I´d rather surround myself with people I really like - Osaka explains coach split|
|We do not have to kill Real Madrid forever - Odriozola|
|Bristol City 0 Wolves 1: Cavaleiro repeats cup heroics|
|Blackburn Rovers 0 Middlesbrough 1: Assombalonga strengthens Boro´s play-off credentials|
|Coman restricted to light training ahead of Liverpool clash|
|Solari refuses to concede LaLiga title race is over|
|Courtois: Real Madrid could not control Girona|
|Weary Kvitova reflects on ´crushing´ start to 2019|
|Umtiti in Barcelona squad to face former club Lyon|
|It´s hard to take - Maxwell laments Stars´ stunning Big Bash defeat|
|Pogba: Manchester United emulating ´Class of 92´|
|Real Madrid 1 Girona 2: Stuani and Portu seal stunning comeback|
|Boult, Mahmudullah fined by ICC|
|Neymar Senior: No chance of PSG star facing Manchester United|
|Broad expects sledging to subside in 2019 Ashes|
|Aguero targets historic quadruple|
|Scholes backs Solskjaer for Man United job|
|Finch hails ´special´ Renegades comeback|
|Sydney FC 1 Central Coast Mariners 1: Le Fondre strike averts shock defeat|
|Fox soars in Perth final to win World Super 6|
|Williams delay start to pre-season testing|
|Renegades crowned BBL champions after stunning Stars collapse|
|What we learned from NBA All-Star Saturday|
|Kaepernick´s attorney tips Patriots to make move for QB|
|Tebow: I told Murray to follow his heart|
|Mourinho created unhealthy atmosphere – Sanchez|
|Santa Cruz defends belt against Rivera|
|Opelka, Isner set ATP Tour record at New York Open|
|Diallo soars over Shaq to win Slam Dunk contest|
|WATCH: Diallo dunks over Shaquille O´Neal|
|Silver: NBA trade requests should stay behind closed doors|
|´It´s more of an aspiration´ – LeBron clears up potential NBA ownership|
|Harris wins Three-Point contest ahead of Curry|
|Thomas leads rain-delayed Genesis Open|
|Tatum wins NBA Skills Challenge with stunning half-court shot|
|Robben: Anfield is the worst stadium|
|Valverde not nervous about Messi penalties after spot-kick miss|
|Sanchez ´worried´ amid Man United struggles|
|Schoeman hat-trick sees Lions past Jaguares|
|Piatek lives to score goals - Milan striker´s brilliant double pleases Gattuso|
|Lyon will punish Barca in this form, Pique warns|
|Guardiola lauds Silva´s ´incredible´ FA Cup performance|
|Clermont hit the top, Perpignan finally win|
|Schwartzman saves match point to down Thiem in Buenos Aires|
16 de febrero 2019
|Leinster withstand Zebre test as Connacht claim big win|
|Antonio Brown: Roethlisberger has owner mentality and you can´t call him out|
|Pizarro becomes Bundesliga´s oldest ever goalscorer|
|Wawrinka ends 20-month wait for final to book Monfils showdown|
|Barcelona 1 Real Valladolid 0: Hit and miss as Messi gets job done|
|Atalanta 1 AC Milan 3: Two-goal Piatek lands blow in fight for fourth|
|NBA, FIBA link up to start 12-team league in Africa|
|Guardiola proud of ´incredible´ City after Newport win|
|Worst pitch I´ve played on - Manchester City hero Foden unimpressed with Newport surface|
|LeBron James, Derek Jeter lead praise for retiring Yankees legend CC Sabathia|
|Durant happy for Porzingis but guarded on his own future|
|Newport County 1 Manchester City 4: Foden nets brace as upset is averted|
|Simeone plans Griezmann, Costa, Morata trident|