Argentina heads into its second World Cup match against Croatia knowing it is already facing potentially a decisive 90 minutes in its quest for glory.

Jorge Sampaoli's side was held to a 1-1 draw in the 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 the side was thrashed 6-1 by Spain in a friendly in March while the talisman watched on injured.

Defender Gabriel Mercado says it is time for the rest of the team to stand up and be counted, starting Thursday in Nizhny Novgorod.

"It's almost impossible not to think about him and not giving him the ball," he told "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 heads into this meeting as the favorite, having claimed a comfortable opening win over Nigeria.

That said, 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 Croatia goes in search of a win that could put it 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."


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 center forward (most likely Sergio Aguero).

Croatia – Andrej Kramaric

Kramaric played as a No. 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.


- This will be the fifth meeting between Argentina and Croatia, with the South Americans winning twice to Croatia's one (D1).

- Croatia has lost all four of its World Cup meetings with South American sides, once in each of the four tournaments it has 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 has scored in each of its last five World Cup games, the nation's 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).