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Four things to look out for on Thursday in the World Cup       

By sportswriter Paul Giblin MOSCOW  Russia (Xinhua) -- The second round of World Cup 2018 group matches is now in full swing, with some sides keen to book an early place in the second round, and others staring down the barrel of an early exit. Here are four things to look out for in Thursday’s group matches.

·         Will France start to click?

Although the French won their opening game 2-1 against Australia, it was a far from convincing display as their attacking trio of Ousmane Dembele, Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe too often looked isolated from their midfield. Head coach Didier Deschamps has to resolve this issue against a Peru side that was unlucky to lose against Denmark and who could go into the game knowing they need a win to keep their World Cup hopes alive.

One solution would be for Griezmann to drop deeper to link with the midfield, while the introduction of Olivier Giroud for Dembele would provide a focal point for the attack and allow Griezmann and Mbappe to use the full width of the pitch to allow France more fluidity.

·         Do or die for the Aussies

Nobody really gave Australia much of a chance of qualifying from a Group C that contains France, Peru and their next opponents Denmark, and although Bert Van Marwijk’s side gave a good account of themselves against the French, they ultimately ended up with nothing.

Denmark were unconvincing in their 1-0 win against Peru, but a win for the Danes in Samara would almost certainly mean the Aussies will be on the first plane home. The Socceroos’ midfield of Mile Jedinak and Aaron Mooy is solid, but they need to make something happen up front. Could it be the moment for 38-year-old Tim Cahill, playing in his fourth World Cup, to once again make his mark?

·         Messi or a mess?

Lionel Messi was the focus of much criticism after Argentina’s 1-1 draw against Iceland in their opening group game, after he struggled to impose himself on the game and missed a penalty which would have given his side the lead.

Argentina now face Croatia, who cruised past Nigeria in their first game with their midfield of Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic and Ivan Perisic bossing the affair from start to finish.

Argentina played veteran duo Javier Mascherano and Lucas Biglia against Iceland and that pairing doesn’t look equipped to deal with Modric and company. Unless Jorge Sampaoli makes changes, with Ever Banega and Marcos Acuna perhaps coming into the team, Messi could face another frustrating 90 minutes.   

·         Kalinic issue to hurt Croatia?

The only disappointment for Croatia following their easy win against Nigeria was the news that striker Nikola Kalinic had been expelled from the squad after refusing to enter the game as an 86th minute substitute.

Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic made it clear that team morale was more important than any individual player with this move, which weakens his squad inasmuch as they have a player less, but which also perhaps strengthens it because now everyone knows nothing short of total commitment will be accepted. 

           

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