Argentina needs help to avoid World Cup group stage elimination

Lionel Messi looks dejected after losing to Croatia.The early stages of the 2018 World Cup have proven that no team is safe, and no team is a better example of that than Argentina. The 2014 finalists were expected to carry Group D, but a draw against Iceland and a loss to Croatia have bumped Argentina to the bottom of the group standings heading into Tuesday’s games. In order to avoid a national embarrassment, Argentina must defeat Nigeria and hope Croatia records a lopsided victory against Iceland.

Argentina entered the tournament among the top five favourite teams to win, but their vaunted attack has sputtered through two games, producing just one goal by Sergio Aguero. Lionel Messi is expected to be the catalyst for Argentina’s offense, much like he was four years ago, but the last two games have provided nothing but frustration from Messi, who leads the tournament with 12 shots yet couldn’t manage to score on a penalty kick against Iceland. It’s impossible for Messi to avoid comparisons to Argentinian living legend Diego Maradona, and much like Maradona 30 years ago, the national team’s fate lives and dies with Messi’s performance.

The draw against Iceland wasn’t an ideal way for Argentina to start the tournament, but it was a much better result than the one that awaited them against Croatia. A disastrous blunder by goalkeeper Wilfredo Caballero opened the door for Croatia, which piled on two more goals as Argentina pressed forward for an equalizer. The 3-0 loss gave Argentina the worst goal differential in Group D, while also assuring Croatia a spot in the knockout rounds.

A group stage elimination would likely be a massive scandal in Argentina, where expectations are sky-high for the two-time World Cup champion national team. But in order to avoid such a embarrassing exit, Argentina needs more than just a win on Tuesday. Not only must they defeat Nigeria, but their fate will ultimately depend on Croatia, which can give Argentina a path to the knockout rounds with a draw or win against Iceland. If both Argentina and Iceland win on Tuesday, second place in Group D will be decided by a tiebreaker, and considering Iceland’s slight goal differential advantage, Argentina can only be comfortable with a multi-goal margin of victory against Nigeria.