Argentina got their asses kicked by Croatia. Croatia wins 3-0. Argentina is on the verge of not making it out of Group D.
Nigeria defeated Iceland 2-0.
Croatia is top dog with six points and has advanced to the round of sixteen.
Nigeria is second with three points.
Iceland is third with a point a minus two and Argentina is fourth with a point a minus three
The Guardians Stuart James:” Jorge Sampaoli held his head in his hands. Lionel Messi stared at the floor. The rest of the Argentina players were speechless, standing with hands on hips and gazing aimlessly into space as wild Croatia celebrations broke out all around. Luka Modric had just filed a contender for the goal of the tournament showreel and twisted the knife in the process, leaving Argentina, twice world champions, on the brink of elimination. By the time Ivan Rakitic added a third, in the 91st minute, Argentina were broken.
This was about as humiliating as it gets for Argentina as the limitations of a team that only just managed to qualify for the World Cup were brutally exposed. Messi, their talisman and inspiration, was a passenger throughout, lost in a game that took place around him as Argentina, abject defensively, overrun in midfield and clueless going forward, crumbled in the face of a terrific Croatia side.
To put an extraordinary evening into some sort of context, this was Argentina’s heaviest defeat in the group stage of a World Cup since losing 6-1 to Czechoslovakia in 1958. It is also the first time they have failed to win either of their opening two matches at a World Cup for 44 years. Sampaoli’s players, in other words, were creating history here – just not the sort of history that Messi had in mind when he came out of international retirement two years ago.
Messi could never have envisaged when he made that decision that Argentina would descend into such a sorry mess, encapsulated by the sight of Willy Caballero, who made his first competitive start for his country on Saturday, making the sort of blunder that will live with him for ever. Ante Rebic was the grateful recipient of a dreadful pass that sent Sampaoli, who must have covered more yards than some of his players as he paced up and down the touchline in a blind panic, into a meltdown.
What followed showed just how weak and brittle Argentina are these days as Croatia took the game away from Sampaoli’s side with alarming ease. Modric, shifting the ball one way and then the other, curled an exquisite 25-yard shot past Caballero, before Rakitic completed the rout by tapping in the third.
As Croatia’s jubilant supporters celebrated the sight of their country winning back-to-back World Cup matches for the first time since 1998 – they finished third that year – the Argentina fans sat in silence, wiping tears from their eyes as they tried to digest a woeful performance that prompted Sampaoli to “beg for forgiveness”.
With one point on the board and a final group game against Nigeria to come, Argentina could still qualify for the last 16. Yet it is hard – almost impossible – to imagine how Sampaoli and his players can possibly recover from such a chastening experience and one that highlighted all the concerns that had been voiced before a ball had been kicked at this World Cup, not least the unhealthy extent to which Argentina are dependent on Messi.
It felt strange, almost uncomfortable at times, to see Messi struggling to emerge from the shadows of this game, waiting for the pass that never came and powerless to bend the match into Argentina’s favour after Caballero’s error. He is still looking for his first goal at this tournament and may not get another chance after the Nigeria game, although Sampaoli summed it up rather succinctly when he was asked about the inevitable comparisons with Cristiano Ronaldo’s contribution for Portugal. “The reality of the Argentina squad clouds Leo’s brilliance,” Sampaoli said.
Messi is so often the scapegoat when Argentina lose, yet Sampaoli will not escape the fallout this time. His decision to keep faith with Caballero – something that one reporter told him 40 million Argentinians could not understand – badly backfired and it was also a huge gamble to dispense with a four-man defence and set up with a back three instead. A huge gamble that spectacularly failed.
Croatia sensed vulnerability early on and targeted the flanks, where so much space opened up behind the two Argentinian wing-backs. Ivan Perisic, Mario Mandzukic and Rebic all had excellent chances to open the scoring before Caballero pressed the self-destruct button. Only he knows why he chose not to punt upfield when Gabriel Mercado, running towards his own goal, passed the ball back to him. Instead, Caballero tried to return the ball to Mercado with a little chip, horribly miscued and gifted Rebic a chance that he was not going to refuse. The winger volleyed the ball straight back over Caballero’s head and Croatia were on their way to one of their most famous victories.
Sampaoli then rolled the dice. He replaced Sergio Agüero with Gonzalo Higuaín, brought on Cristian Pavón and introduced Paulo Dybala, as he became more and more desperate. Messi, with a rare sight of goal, had a close-range effort blocked by Rakitic, his Barcelona teammate, after Maximiliano Meza had been denied by Danijel Subasic, Croatia’s goalkeeper, but there was nothing menacing about Argentina’s play.
Croatia, in contrast, looked threatening every time they attacked and ran riot late on. Modric’s goal was a beauty and Rakitic, who hit the bar with a free-kick, slotted in the third to put Zlatko Dalic and his players in dreamland. “We were excellent,” Dalic said. “But now we must be calm, dignified and humble.”