VOLGOGRAD, RUSSIA (AFP) - Lionel Messi is under increased pressure to redeem himself when Argentina face Croatia in Thursday's (June 21) pivotal match after eternal rival Cristiano Ronaldo scored his fourth goal of the World Cup to send Morocco packing.
Messi's team-mates have rallied around their superstar captain after his spot-kick was saved in the 1-1 draw against minnows Iceland on Saturday.
The forward 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.
However so far in Russia, Messi has been overshadowed by Ronaldo, who took his tournament goal tally to four on Tuesday with the winner in Portugal's 1-0 defeat of Morocco, which condemned the Africans to an early exit.
A defeat against the Luka Modric-led Croatians in Nizhny Novgorod could see Argentina, unthinkably, flirt with the possibility of a first group-stage exit 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 forward Paulo Dybala of Messi. "We are here to help him every moment, and of course we will be at his side," he added.
Croatia secured three points in their 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 claimed he had a back injury.