Croatia easily defeated Argentina in a sorry performance for the South Americans. With this, Croatia secure their qualification for the knockout rounds. Argentina, however, find themselves languishing at the bottom of Group D with only a single point, and qualification seems to be slipping away.
Caballero, Mercado, Tagliafico, Otamendi, Salvio (Pavon 56′), Acuna, Meza, Mascherano, Perez (Dybala, 68′), Messi, Aguero (Higuain 54′)
Croatia- Rebic 55′, Modric 80′, Rakitic 90′
Subasic, Vrsaljko, Strinic, Lovren, Vida, Perisic (Kovacic 81′), Rakitic, Modric, Brozovic, Rebic (Kramaric 57′), Mandzukic (Corluka, 93′)
Argentina were on the front foot early in this game. Initially, this team looked far different to the side which were dominated by Iceland in their opening game. Both sides enjoyed prolonged spells of possession, with the first real chance of the game falling to Croatia and a low Ivan Perisic shot. Argentine goalkeeper Willy Caballero had a shaky start against Iceland, however his reactions here were brilliant. Croatia, however, remained dangerous, with another significant chance falling to them when Vrsaljko was found unmarked in the box by an excellent Rakitic pass. End to end football throughout the first ten minutes in Nizhny Novgorod.
Despite Argentina’s positive start to the game, their defense was clearly still a liability at times. Throughout the opening period, their back line looked constantly nervy. Too often were Croatia gifted an attacking opportunity due to defensive incompetence. For all the strengths exhibited by the South Americans in their attacking corps, the side were constantly undone by terrible defensive decisions. Croatia looked increasingly menacing as the half progressed, however.
Argentina’s luck seemed to be decreasing rapidly throughout this half. A terrible miss from Enzo Perez before an empty net encapsulated this, as Subasic lay in no man’s land. Croatia, however, seemed to be suffering from the same fate, with Mandzukic being gifted a wide open opportunity at the back post, yet his glancing header fell wide of the goal. Two huge chances for these respective sides- surely a goal was on the horizon?
Nevertheless, the second half surprisingly ended without a goal. Yet again, Lionel Messi remained completely absent in this first half, in a similar fashion to Argentina’s opening game. Going into the break, the game remained wide open. Half time, 0-0.
A strong start from either side could be all the difference after the break. The game continued, however, to be well matched, with both sides enjoying periods of possession.
It seemed to be a foregone conclusion that the downfall of Argentina would come due to their incompetent goalkeeping. A woeful pass attempt by Caballero fell straight into the path of Rebic, who spectacularly volleyed the ball into the roof of the net. An incredible shot by the Croatian, however Caballero is clearly to blame for this goal. In a game as important as this, mistakes like this simply cannot happen. With this, the goalkeeper had possibly ruined his side’s chances of a win.
Argentina, seeing their chances of progression slowly dwindle, rapidly increased their attacking pressure. This resulted in a number of significant chances, including a frantic goal-line bundle which was somehow denied by Subasic. Croatia by no means looked as though they were falling into complacency, however, and still provided an attacking threat. After substitutions, Argentina had all but one of their attacking options on the field. If they failed to score in this final quarter of the game, their World Cup status would hang in the balance.
Their attempts, however, would be in vain. Captain Luka Modric curled in a superb goal from outside the box, as the Argentine defense stood like deer in headlights. Yet another sublime shot from the Croatian, however in this case, Argentina can only blame themselves. Not one defender actually made an effort to close Modric down, leaving him free to coast on the edge of the box. A small fracas between the teams in the minutes after this goal fully encapsulates the level of discipline shown by Argentina in this tournament. The South Americans have shown absolutely no desire or drive throughout the entirety of the World Cup. They have been absolutely powerless in every single respect this year.
In another fit of absolute capitulation, Argentina concede their third at the hands of Ivan Rakitic. With this, Argentina look to be an absolutely sorry sight. With the Croatian attack quickly approaching their goal, several defenders lightly jogged back to their positions instead of showing any haste. The South Americans wholeheartedly deserved to lose this game.
With that, Argentina leave Nizhny Novgorod with zero points. Final score, Croatia 3-0 Argentina.
The Lazy Fan View
Let’s begin with the positives. In this game, Croatia proved that they deserve recognition as a formidable force in this tournament. Their midfield constantly split the Argentine defense with several searching passes, showing why this group is one of the best in the World Cup. Their defensive corps also deserve praise, as they were solid as ever. Croatia have now secured qualification to the next round of the tournament, and deservedly so.
Where can I even start to begin with Argentina? I felt an incredible number of emotions throughout this match. Primarily, it was a massive amount of sadness. This will most likely be the last World Cup to feature Lionel Messi in his prime, and the fact that he is stagnating in such a poorly disciplined team is maddening. He was, again, invisible throughout this game, but when he sees such little of the ball, is he really responsible? Cesc Fabregas summed up the dysfunction of the team brilliantly in his post-match analysis. Argentina played with almost zero midfield, which is an absolute dream for opposition midfielders. As a result, quite simply, Croatia were dominating them.
It will be heartrendingly disappointing if this turns out to be the World Cup swansong for the greatest footballer of my generation. All hope is not lost, however, as if other results go their way, Argentina can still progress. Tomorrow’s Group D game between Nigeria and Iceland now holds a great deal of importance for the South Americans.