In a tournament as ubiquitous in coverage as the World Cup, it's hard for any team to come up with a secret weapon.
As Croatia star Ivan Rakitic said to a packed news conference in Nizhny Novgorod, where Croatia will face Argentina on Thursday: "With the analysis of today, if you didn't know a player, you could learn everything about him in 30 minutes."
Argentina, however, might just have an ace up their sleeve. And it seems the time to deploy it is now.
Cristian Pavon is a relatively unknown name to audiences outside of South America, albeit one linked with Barcelona and Arsenal, among others. The Boca Juniors winger has spent his career to date in Argentina's top flight and only made his debut for the senior national team last November, in a 1-0 win over World Cup hosts Russia.
He may not have yet made his mark on the global scene, but his rise to prominence in the eyes of Argentinians has been swift. Boca reportedly paid €1.3million to sign him from Talleres de Cordoba as an 18-year-old in 2014, just four days before he would watch his national team lose the World Cup final. He has only spent two seasons in Boca's first-team set-up but has already become an indispensable part of the line-up. In that friendly against Russia, he was on the pitch for 12 minutes but still set up the only goal of the game.
Now, he looks set to start in their most important match in months.
11 – Lionel Messi attempted 11 shots for Argentina vs Iceland (the most he’s ever attempted in a World Cup game), but he still didn’t manage to score a goal. Frustration.#ARGISL #ARG #WorldCup pic.twitter.com/YDZBP9aowj— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) June 16, 2018
"Cristian is a player with enormous potential, he can really turn a match around for us," head coach Jorge Sampaoli said on Wednesday.
"Cristian is a player who is extremely highly respected in the squad. Obviously, he hasn't played many matches for Argentina so we can't burden him with a complete responsibility but we definitely have in him a special card we can play if the situation becomes complicated."
Argentina must get a good result against Croatia, both to banish thoughts of the draw with Iceland and give themselves the best chance of going through to the last 16 as Group D winners. The situation is already complicated, whether Sampaoli admits it or not.
Pavon is a vibrant attacking player, capable of scoring goals (he has 15 for Boca in the league in the last two seasons) and creating them. He is also a major unbalancing act for opposition defences: the pace and skill in possession he showed in the build-up to Lionel Messi's third goal in a recent friendly with Haiti proved as much.
It's really for Messi's benefit that Pavon is in line to face Croatia. Sampaoli spoke at length of the need for other players to exploit spaces when opposition defenders crowd around the Barcelona star. Pavon is the best fit to do just that.
Reports in Argentina suggest Sampaoli will favour a 3-4-3 system against Zlatko Dalic's side, too, giving Eduardo Salvio and Nicolas Tagliafico more freedom as wing-backs, with Messi and Pavon out wide in support of Sergio Aguero. With overlapping runners and Pavon on hand to stretch the defence, the theory is that Messi will have the space to thrive that Iceland so ruthlessly denied him.
So much of the talk around Argentina centres on whether Messi can deliver, whether he can emulate Diego Maradona's achievement in 1986, lead his side to glory and become history's undisputed greatest. His hopes of doing so will depend greatly on the performance against Croatia and, in turn, the performance of Pavon.
The time is right for Sampaoli to unleash his youngest star. Argentina's brightest depends on it.
23 de julio 2018
|Pirates top Reds to extend winning streak to nine|
|Minnesota United 5 Los Angeles FC 1: Five-star hosts shock LAFC|
|Prospect of Anthony joining Rockets excites Harden|
|Mets place Syndergaard on DL with hand, foot and mouth disease|
|Cubs, Baez give young fan signed baseball after adult steals foul ball|
|To those who enjoy seeing others fail, I feel for you – Karius responds criticism|
|Barbasol Championship final round to resume on Monday due to thunderstorms|
|You can´t do whatever you want in life – Mourinho responds to Martial exit talk|
|Harvick bumps Busch out of way for victory|
|Klopp hails Dortmund star Pulisic after Liverpool loss|
|Fellow pro reveals Open winner Molinari´s retirement plans|
|Manchester United 0 San Jose Earthquakes 0: Sanchez returns in uninspiring draw|
|Laporte jealous of France World Cup winners|
|Tamim fires Bangladesh to ODI success|
|Liverpool 1 Borussia Dortmund 3: Pulisic inspires comeback to deny Klopp win against old club|
22 de julio 2018
|My game is back - Spieth finds Open positives despite tough final round|
|Barcelona pay tribute to retiring Marquez|
|Blow for Thomas and Froome as Moscon is excluded|
|Woods earns WGC-Bridgestone Invitational place with rankings boost|
|Clay specialist Cecchinato lifts Croatia title on return to red dirt|
|Molinari´s safety-first masterclass yields deserved Open triumph|
|Alisson to link up with Liverpool at Evian training camp|
|Woods´ return no fluke, insists Spieth|
|Johnson shrugs off shoulder injury to win second 2018 title|
|The Open 2018 diary: Kane an able golfer, hats off to Hossler|
|Tiger and Serena will talk through Open disappointment|
|Molinari: It wasn´t about being ruthless to beat Woods|
|Tiger ´ticked off´ at missed Open opportunity|
|The Open 2018: Molinari triumphs - how a dramatic final round unfolded|
|McIlroy: Great to be back in the mix|
|Open victory will take a long time to sink in, says Molinari|
|Stoke sign McClean from West Brom for £5m|
|Masterful Molinari clinches sublime Open win after Spieth, Woods fall away|
|Germany´s Ozil retires from international football|
|Vikings OL coach Tony Sparano dies|
|BREAKING NEWS: Magical Molinari wins The Open|
|Dalic claims to be world´s second best coach|
|Twelve-try Wakefield batter Hull to send Rhinos into Qualifiers|
|Sevastova cruises to Bucharest title|
|Cort Nielsen sprints to first Tour stage win, Thomas maintains lead|
|Sarri needs support to deliver Chelsea success - Zola|
|Pjanic and Rugani in Juventus tour squad as Ronaldo and World Cup stars are rested|
|Eagle has McIlroy soaring into a five-way tie for the lead at Carnoustie|
|Vettel will not lose any sleep after Hockenheim mistake|
|I manifested my dream – Hamilton revels in Hockenheim win|
|Pakistan seal crushing series sweep of Zimbabwe|
|Furious Ozil accuses German media of turning country against him|
|Woods makes his move as Spieth and Schauffele wobble|
|Vettel crash sees Hamilton retake championship lead|
|RFEF confirms one-legged Supercopa de Espana in Tangier|
|Fognini downs Gasquet to clinch Swedish Open|
|Spieth and Tiger underway as Kisner falls back|
|Iniesta, Torres suffer defeats in their J.League debuts|
|Cornet ends title drought in Gstaad|
|Martial ´very focused´ at Manchester United - Herrera|
|Root, Williamson and Bairstow - hat-trick hero Clark flourishes in Roses battle|
|Sri Lanka spinning towards crushing series whitewash|
|Ozil explains controversial Erdogan meeting|
|It´ll be hard for Tuchel to get our players – Kovac expects Boateng stay|
|Fakhar Zaman fastest to 1,000 ODI runs|
|Neymar happy for World Cup winner Mbappe|
|I was born ready! - Bellew accepts Usyk challenge|
|Tuchel seeks Rabiot answers as Barca rumours persist|
|In-form Storm go top, Rampant Roosters thrash Manly|
|Bancroft discharged from hospital after taking blow to throat|
|MLS Review: Martinez breaks record as Atlanta march on|
|Brewers top Dodgers to snap seven-game losing streak|
|Munguia wins after 12-round marathon with Smith|
|Hart ready to leave City to revive career|
|Puel shuts down Schmeichel transfer speculation|