• Friday, Nov 16, 2018
  • Last Update : 02:52 am

Messi under pressure at World Cup as Ronaldo scores again

  • Published at 10:05 pm June 21st, 2018
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Argentina's Lionel Messi during training

Lionel Messi is under pressure to deliver when Argentina face Croatia on Thursday after his eternal rival Cristiano Ronaldo streaked clear at the top of the World Cup goalscoring charts.

The Barcelona forward had a first game to forget, failing to convert a penalty as the two-time world champions drew 1-1 with Iceland in their Group D opener.

In stark contrast, Ronaldo, who last month won his fifth Champions League winner's medal, now has four goals in Russia and looks a shoo-in to win his sixth world player of the year award.

Elsewhere on Thursday, 1998 champions France can virtually ensure progress from Group C with a win against Peru, while Australia need to bounce back against Denmark after losing to Les Bleus.

Messi's teammates have rallied around their superstar captain after his disappointing performance against Iceland.

He is bearing the weight of expectations as Argentina seek a first World Cup trophy since 1986, desperate to crown his glittering career with a major international tournament success.

A defeat against the Luka Modric-led Croatians in Nizhny Novgorod could see Argentina, unthinkably, flirting with a first exit at the group stage since 2002. 

"We are all with him, he knows that he can count on the support of all of us more than ever," said Argentina striker Paulo Dybala of Messi. 

"We are here to help him every moment, and of course we will be at his side."

Croatia secured three points in a 2-0 win against Nigeria in their opening game but enter the match under a cloud.

AC Milan striker Nikola Kalinic was sent home from Russia for reportedly refusing to come on as a substitute, though coach Zlatko Dalic said the AC Milan man had a back injury.

France, who edged past Australia 2-1 courtesy of an Antoine Griezmann penalty and an own goal in their Group C opener, vowed to ramp up the intensity against Peru in Yekaterinburg.

"We took stock of what was done well or not so well and all agree that we will have to increase our physical intensity and improve our attitude in general," said vice-captain and central defender Raphael Varane.

"Other teams (among the favourites) did not win or even lost. We won, but we know that there are things to improve on. We know what direction we need to go in."

The defeat to France mean the Socceroos need a win against Christian Eriksen's Denmark in Samara.

"We know (Eriksen) is a fantastic player and obviously he's got a huge role to play for them," said Australia captain Mile Jedinak. 

"But we're not trying to focus on that. We'll definitely focus on them as whole and as a collective."