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sports WORLD CUP: RUSSIA 2018

Mercado admits Argentina's World Cup hopes are on the line against Croatia

"The reality is that this game is crucial for us," says Sevilla defender.

Monday 18 June, 2018
Gabriel Mercado (left) and Cristian Pavón attend a press conference at the team's base camp in Bronnitsy, near Moscow.
Gabriel Mercado (left) and Cristian Pavón attend a press conference at the team's base camp in Bronnitsy, near Moscow. Foto:AFP-JUAN MABROMATA

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National team defender Gabriel Mercado admitted today that Argentina's World Cup hopes are on the line ahead of Thursday's second group game against Croatia.

Captain Lionel Messi missed a penalty as Argentina were held to a surprise 1-1 draw by tournament debutants Iceland in their Group D opener at the weekend.

Croatia lead the group after a 2-0 victory over Nigeria and could seal their place in the knock-out stages with a win against Argentina in Nizhny Novgorod.

"The reality is that this game is crucial for us, knowing we weren't able to get the three points the other day," said Mercado. "This is a vital game. We need to win to go ahead of them." 

The Sevilla player highlighted Spain-based midfield duo Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic as the dangermen for Zlatko Dalic's side.

"We know that Croatia has those two players in the centre who have good control of the ball. They try to take a lead role too and they have other very good players.

"They're a difficult team, very dangerous. We already knew that when the draw was made. I imagine it will be a tough game, hard fought and we'll try to take control. I think it's going to be a very even match." 

Coach Jorge Sampaoli was blasted by Diego Maradona after the Iceland game, with the 1986 World Cup winner warning he would not be welcome back home unless he changes his tactics.

"Playing like that, he can't come back to Argentina," the 1986 World Cup winner told Venezuelan television after Lionel Messi missed a penalty in the 1-1 Group D stalemate in Moscow. 

"It's a disgrace. Not having prepared for the match knowing that Iceland are all 1.90m tall... I get the feeling there's a general anger at the heart of the team," said Maradona, himself a former national team coach. 

Maradona avoided criticising his Messi and instead pointed the finger at Sampaoli. 

"I don't blame the players. I could blame the lack of work rate. But I can't blame the players, much less Messi, who gave it all he had," he said.

"I missed five penalties on the spin and I was still Diego Armando Maradona. I don't think that they dropped two points because Messi missed a penalty," added Maradona, who led Argentina to the quarter-finals in South Africa in 2010. 

Paris Saint-Germain winger Ángel Di María looks set to be dropped for the Croatia clash after a quiet performance against Iceland, with Cristian Pavón in line to replace him in the starting team.

Mercado is also in contention to start as Sampaoli while Giovani Lo Celso or Ever Banega could be selected ahead of Lucas Biglia in midfield.

- TIMES/AFP

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