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2018 FIFA World Cup Day 8: Thursday Live Chat

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All or nothing time for Argentina as the team tackles Croatia (and Croatia tackles Messi).

Lionel Messi - Argentina - Group D - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia
The 2018 FIFA World Cup Final comes early in this tournament for Messi and company. Really, really early.
Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images

It’s a final for Argentina well before one was hoped for. Lose to Croatia, and then an Iceland victory over Nigeria on Friday could put La Albiceleste at the mercy of others. It wouldn’t matter if Argentina beat Nigeria in the third and final group game, all Croatia and Iceland would need to progress would be a draw.

There are two other games before the big “Final”. Let’s take a look!

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Peru v Denmark: Group C - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia
Christian Eriksen. He’s, like, really good!
Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Denmark v Australia

Something is not rotten in the House of Denmark! This is a very solid squad with quality up and down the lineup. Tottenham maestro Christian Eriksen is of course the star on show, but don’t disregard Leicester keeper Kasper Schmeichel, Chelsea central defender Andreas Christensen, Celta’s Pione Sisto, and quality attackers such as Matthias Jorgensen and Yussuf “Yurary” Poulsen.

Australia also features a few exciting talents. Midfielder Aaron Mooy of Huddersfied Town is a very capable all around talent who, at times, can dictate the flow of games. The Socceroo keeper Maty Ryan of Brighton & Hove Albion is usually very reliable and is used to facing a ton of pressure. Other Socceroos to watch include “Captain Kangaroo” Mile Jedinak and Wonder Boy Daniel Arzani who, as the youngest player in the entire tournament, looks destined for bigger things.

Aussie fans hope their team can be more adventurous on the counter than it showed against France. Denmark, for its part, will hope for the classy Eriksen to calmly and safely steer them to 3 points.

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Peru v Denmark: Group C - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia
Will Paolo Guerrero start? He must! He must!
Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

France v Peru

Will star striker Paolo Guerrero start for Peru? Or will he come off the bench? If the latter, how long will Gareca wait to introduce this game changing element? Both teams desperately need a win. This game features a very talented midfielder in Peru’s Cristian Cueva, whose psyche needs to be assessed following a heartbreaking penalty miss in the first game v Denmark. Both keepers, Pedro Gallese for Peru and Hugo Lloris for France are talented and confident shot-stoppers.

France feature an array of world-class performers such as Antoine Griezmann, Paul Pogba, Kylian Mbappe, N’Golo Kante and Raphael Varane. The French also have phenomenal depth with proven real life and fantasy performers such as Olivier Giroud, Benjamin Mendy, Hugo Lloris and (more recently) Ousmane Dembele and Nabil Fekir. The issue with this France selection is they haven’t yet figured out the right system to get the most from their individual talents in a way that looks remotely cohesive.

All in all, I believe that Peru will compete but the most they can reasonably hope for is a spirited draw. Can France convince?

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Argentina v Croatia

This one feels like a World Cup Final! Top class stars will face each other for Group-D supremacy! With a resilient Iceland looking very much in control of advancing out of this group, this game is a must win for Argentina and very close to it for Croatia.

Lionel Messi - Argentina: Group D - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia
Please Leo, don’t take any more penalties (but please score lots of golazos versus Croatia!)
Photo by Gabriel Rossi/Getty Images

Argentina will look very different than it did against Iceland. The (failed) game plan against the Viking Thunderclap was to protect the middle at all costs while ignoring the defensive outside flanks.

Jorge Sampaoli will not be able to ignore the wings against the likes of Croatia’s Ante Rebic, Ivan Perisic and Mario Mandzukic. Similarly, however, Sampaoli will not be able to relax in the middle as Croatia feature Real Madrid maestro Luka Modric and Barcelona’s Ivan Rakitic in central midfield. By the way, don’t look for Andrej Kramaric in this game — or in this World Cup. He has been sent home for being unable to play when called upon to substitute — Kramaric has an ongoing history of back problems, and the Croatian manager has given up on him.

Croatia v Nigeria: Group D - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia
Luka Modric will have a lot to say to Argentina’s finest!
Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images

It is very likely then that we will see a more “Sampaoli” team consisting of a Chelsea-like 3-4-3. It is expected that the three defenders will be (left to right) Nicolas Tagliafico, Nicolas Otamendi, and Gabriel Mercado. The wingbacks will be Marcos Acuna on the left and Eduardo “Toto” Salvio on the right. The central midfield double pivot will be manned by the more defensive Javier Mascherano and the veteran Enzo Perez, who joined the team following Manuel Lanzini’s injury hours before departing for Russia. The forwards will be Maximiliano Meza, Lionel Messi in a “free” role, and Sergio “El Kun” Aguero as the most advanced striker.

All week we’ve heard that Angel Di Maria would not be in the XI, and his expected replacement would be Cristian “El Kichan” Pavon. It appears Sampa had a last-minute change of heart because he prefers Kichan’s game breaking ability as an option off the bench, and because Meza has had two consecutive games in which he’s been rated very highly per Sampa’s internal metrics.

Sergio Aguero - Argentina: Group D - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia
Kun flying high! But can he fly high enough?
Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images

This is, of course, the formation and XI that Sampaoli would like. There is very little stopping Messi from re-writing the game plan an hour before the game.

It’s All or Nothing for Argentina and for Lionel Messi. I can’t wait.

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Whom do you have playing today? For which nations are you pulling? Have you moved the captain’s arm-band before today’s action? If so, to whom? Made any Dream-Team trades yet (you have 20 for the tournament that you can use between days, up to 3 /day)? Anything else on your mind? Please let us know in the comments!

Let’s goooooooooooooo!!!!!