Fifa World Cup: Lionel Messi faces day that could define his career with Argentina
The South Americans must win to progress, with the Barcelona star desperate to turn around his flagging fortunes with the national team
Lionel Messi’s Argentina face their World Cup day of destiny on Tuesday, needing a win to have any chance of progressing to the last 16.
Argentina will look to join Spain, Portugal, Russia, Uruguay, France, Croatia, Belgium and England in the next round but must rely on the outcome of the other match in group D.
Held to a draw by tiny Iceland – with Messi missing a penalty – and humbled by Croatia, Jorge Sampaoli’s men could already be packing their bags.
The maths is simple: if Argentina beat Nigeria and Iceland fail to win against group D leaders Croatia, they will go through to the last 16. If Iceland win, it will be time to get the calculators out.
Argentina’s struggles in Russia come after their pre-tournament preparations were wrecked by controversy and poor form, coupled with a reliance on a top-heavy, limited squad.
The Argentine federation was even moved to confirm that coach Jorge Sampaoli would continue for the final group game amid rumours of a rift between players and coach.
“We have to make our goal five games to reach the final. Tomorrow will be the first final,” the defiant coach said on the eve of the game in St Petersburg.
“No matter who plays tomorrow will have the obligation to give until the last bead of sweat so that Argentina will go through.”
Euro 2016 heroes Iceland can still dream of progress to the knockout rounds but they must beat Croatia and hope the other result goes their way.
Elsewhere on Tuesday, 1998 champions France take on Denmark in Moscow with top spot in group C up for grabs.
Denmark require just a point to join France in the knockout stages, and could even pip Les Bleus to top spot with a victory.
“We are not going to give them a helping hand. Our goal is to guarantee first place and two results will allow that,” Deschamps said.
“I would never say to my team that we’re playing for a draw. I want my team to go out onto the pitch without any ambiguity and to do everything to win this match.”
Australia still have a slim chance of progressing if they beat Peru heavily and Denmark lose to France.