Argentina‘s World Cup campaign just went from bad to worse after the 3-0 mauling at the hands of a crackerjack Croatian side. Ante Rebic, Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic all bagged a goal apiece in the second-half to propel the Blazers into the last
16 of the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
The Albiceleste painted themselves in a corner with a thoroughly abject display in the second-half compounded by costly defensive mistakes and a goalkeeping blunder by Willy Caballero. Lionel Messi was anonymous again while Jorge Sampaoli’s questionable tactics were laid bare.
Argentina are now dangling by a thread, and need favourable results from other games to qualify whilst also beating Nigeria by a minimum of 4 goals.
Here are the best and worst players from the evening:
#1 Best – Luka Modric
Let’s open up with truly the best player of the evening by all accounts. The Real Madrid metronome pulled the strings from the centre of the park as he was the pintel around which Croatia burgeoned. Modric helped his side maintain pressure with his short, slick passes upfield and also helped out at the back by lunging into tackles. He completed 100% of his take-ons, won 100% of his duels and also strung 42 passes.
With virtually no one to man mark him, Modric made the most of the fact by bossing the midfield and also had a hand in creating Rebic’s opener. His best piece of the game though, was when he slipped clear of Otamendi and unleashed an absolute belter of a shot into the far post beyond the despairing dive of Caballero.
Confidence, skill, power – the goal encased every bit of what Modric imbued on the evening as he turned in another man-of-the-match performance.
#2 Worst – Lionel Messi
With Cristiano Ronaldo once again making the difference for Portugal with a match-winning strike, the onus was well and truly on Messi to step up and riposte his great rival. But he remained subdued like he did in the opener against Iceland.
A few buccaneering runs around the edge of the area and nutmegs aside, the Barcelona ace didn’t test the Croatian backline enough, who boxed him up every time he tried to foray into the final third. His 20 touches in the first-half were the second lowest by an Argentinian player and it took him 64 minutes to muster his first and the only shot of the game. And even that was expertly thwarted with a well-timed block by his Barcelona colleague Rakitic.Blame Sampaoli’s bewildering tactics or laud Croatia for their stubbornness at the back, either way, Messi was highly disappointing and his sombre expressions at fulltime could say it all.
#3 Best – Ivan Rakitic
Luka Modric will take away all the plaudits from the game and rightfully so. But there were many around him who put in a good shift too. Ivan Rakitic is one of them, and the Barcelona star made unprecedented efforts to stifle Argentina.
He was critical to keeping Messi in check, ghosting around him when in possession and jumping at him with his legs outstretched whenever he tried to take a shot or connect with a pass. His best effort was the superb block at around the hour mark as he denied Messi from point-blank range what could’ve otherwise been a goal. Rakitic’s defensive shift was immense in helping Croatia keep the mighty Argentina at arm’s length, but he also had a significant say on the offensive front.
Rakitic was quick to run into pockets of space and also accurate with his long balls over the top. He broke well on the counter to instigate attacks and added insult to Argentina’s injury with the last strike of the game, coolly slotting home past Mercado from barely 5 yards out.
4 Worst – Willy Caballero
The Chelsea shot-stopper literally gifted the opener to Rebic with an indecision that saw him try to lob the ball over the Croatian forward only to tee him up with an unspectacular chip, and the former had all the space and time to adjust himself before whacking one into the far post for the opener.
Caballero should’ve done better there, much better, but his nervous touch just set the tone for the rest of the evening. He initially did well to deny Mandzukic from close range in the first-half but wilted when Croatia upped the ante. His howler today was the fourth by a goalkeeper in this World Cup directly leading to a goal, and all this just 5 days after his poor showing in the build-up to Iceland’s equalizer.
Caballero was in no man’s land when Croatia came for the third, as Kovacic drove him out of his position and fed Rakitic, who had the easiest job in the world of tapping it into the net.
Sergio Romero’s injury at the eleventh hour propelled Caballero as the no.1 choice in goal, but Argentina cannot rue the former’s absence between the sticks more, after this game.
5 Best: Croatian centre-back duo
Dejan Lovren and Domagoj Vida forged a terrific defensive pair for Croatia and were instrumental in registering a clean sheet today. When Argentina pushed forward during the opening spells, the centre-back duo held on their own and nipped any danger in the bud.
The Liverpool defender, especially, never shied away from throwing himself into a tackle and also made some crucial blocks. His brawny presence frustrated Argentina to the hilt. Lovren just had a fine season with the Reds as his immaculate defending banished the demons of the previous season, and now he’s carried his rich vein of form to Russia too.
He was ably complemented by his partner, as Vida too put in a solid shift to deny the Albiceleste on numerous occasions. A lapse in concentration at one point allowed Perez to have a go at the goal, but that could be easily excused.
The Croatian midfield is among the best in the tournament, but turns out, their centre-back pairing too can give the most stellar attacks a real run for their money.
#6 Worst – Sergio Aguero
As if Messi’s poor form wasn’t enough, Aguero cut a stinker of his own. In fact, the Manchester City ace fared the worst in the attack for Argentina. His 7 touches in the first half were the lowest by a player on the field! A massive far cry from a player who’s widely touted to be among the greatest to have ever graced the Premier League.
Forget scoring a goal, Aguero was invisible upfront. Starting as the centre-forward in the 3-4-2-1 system, he offered virtually nothing going forward. Nada. The Croatian backline doesn’t remember being hassled by Aguero whatsoever, and this has to be one of his poorest performances ever in an Argentinian shirt.
He was put out of his misery well before the hour mark when Aguero was subbed off for Higuain, but in the final 21 minutes of his game, didn’t even touch the ball once!