While it’s not quite ‘win or bust’ for Argentina, there will be more pressure on them than their will be on their opponents, Croatia. Jorge Sampaoli’s side began their World Cup campaign with a disappointing 1-1 draw against Iceland, while Croatia beat Nigeria 2-0.
It was a case of small margins in both games though; Argentina missed a penalty, whereas Croatia scored one, while also benefiting from an own-goal. With VAR appearing to ensure more penalties are being given, the 11/5 odds that Royal Panda are offering for there to be a spot kick here should not be ignored.
The Argentines had a bigger expected goals differential than Zlatko Dalić’s team in the first pair of games too, but so much in football depends on taking your chances when they come along. The bookmakers are not concerned by the opening set of results anyway. Karamba have Argentina priced at 20/21 for the win, while Croatia are 59/20. As per the prices in our Group D preview, Saturday’s results have had little impact.
While it’s not a straightforward match to call, I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of a draw, which is available at 11/5 with the same firm. Argentina have now drawn four of their last five matches (in 90 minutes) at World Cups, with the other a narrow 1-0 win. They also tied seven qualification games, the most of any South American team.
Croatia are strong defensively too, so will not be pushovers. They conceded just four goals in their ten qualifying group matches, then one in their two legged play off with Greece. Argentina will probably have too much just as they did in their one previous competitive meeting in 1998, but it looks like it will be a tight match.
The bookmakers agree with me there. 888sport offer 7/11 for there to be under 2.5 goals, and 13/10 for at least three. I’m definitely inclined to go with the former, as it fits the profile of both sides if we assess the match logically.
As Argentina are strong favourites, it makes sense to consider them to be the home side. Aside from a 3-0 win against Colombia, none of their other eight home games in qualifying saw more than 2.5 goals scored.
It’s a similar picture for Croatia when they are away. Only one of their five games on the road in qualifying saw at least three goals, and that was when they hammered minnows Kosovo 6-0. There has also only been over 2.5 goals in one of Croatia’s last six matches, so a bet on under 2.5 goals definitely makes sense based on the form book.
Both teams found the net in only one of those six games too, so should we bet ‘no’ in the both teams to score market? I’m not so sure here, as Iceland had two clear-cut chances when facing Argentina, so I would expect Croatia to fashion some decent opportunities throughout this game too.
However, at least one side drew a blank in all six of Croatia’s away qualifiers, and in six of Argentina’s at home too. The stats definitely say we should bet ‘no’ here, and that’s priced at 3/4 with Genting Bet. Something tells me both will get chances though, so I’m going to go with ‘yes’ at 19/20.
It won’t surprise anyone to see Lionel Messi lead the way in the goalscorer markets, but I think there’s better value elsewhere. The Barcelona man is available at 33/10 to score first with Sportnation, or 21/20 to net at any point with the same company. However, his World Cup record isn’t very impressive by his remarkable standards, with five goals in 16 appearances for his country at the competition.
Four of those were scored in Brazil four years ago, so outside of South America Messi has scored just one goal (in his first ever game) in nine World Cup matches. While Sergio Aguero only has one goal in nine games at the global level, there are mitigating circumstances to consider if you plan to bet on him.
Manchester City’s record goal scorer netted against Iceland on Saturday, and that was the first time he’s completed 90 minutes in a World Cup game. He’s sure to start against Croatia, so Ladbrokes’ odds of 6/4 for him to score, or 7/2 to bag the opener may be a slightly better bet than the automatic Messi selection.
But don’t ignore the Europeans here either. Mario Mandzukic was Croatia’s top scorer in qualifying, and has scored twice across his three World Cup matches. He could be worth a look at 7/1 to break the deadlock or 5/2 to score at any time with BetBright.