November 30, 2023

Well, not too many people saw this coming. The World Cup is on the brink of having claimed its first big fish. Argentina! Who’d have expected them to lose in this manner to Croatia? Croatia showed they were the better team over the two halves and were able to capitalise on opposition errors better.

The first half was one of the most entertaining goalless halves one might see. It was neck and neck between both the teams. Croatia started better as they forced an early save from Caballero through Perisic. Argentina did finally get into the game. Although, it was worrying to see Caballero having more touches of the ball than Messi and Aguero in the first half. The best chance of the half though fell to Argentina. Enzo Perez missed an open goal from inside the box. It may have been on his weaker foot but at the highest level, one has to put that away. One can only imagine how much he rues that missed opportunity now.

The first half was a cagey affair which saw tempers rise but not result into any moment of madness from any of the players. That theme was to continue for the entire match. Mario Mandzukic too did not do his reputation any good as he missed an easy header after a good ball from Sime Vrsaljko

One would have expected Messi & Co to iron out the flaws and come out dominant in the second half in a match of this magnitude. The fact is that Argentina had a lot more riding on this result than Croatia. The pressure got too much for them as seen with Willy Caballero and the way the first goal was conceded. One might argue that Ante Rebic should not have been on the pitch after his strong challenge late in the first half on Salvio. No one could dispute his finish though. It was from close range but the ferocity of the strike was something to behold.

From there on, Argentina tried their best to get through, they had a few half chances but nothing too troubling for Subasic in goal. Dybala was brought on after Cristian Pavon which may have raised some eyebrows but even he could not help his team get out of this mess. With Argentina looking for a goal, Luka Modric showed the world what he can do with another goal of the tournament contender.

From thereon, Argentina gave up and the third goal was a testament to that. Even after a good save from Caballero, they did not make an effort to latch onto the rebound. Kovacic played in Rakitic who slotted in another goal from point-blank range.

As much as the spotlight might be on Argentina, one has to commend the performance of Croatia. To come out and school Argentina is no joke. It is time that they come out of the ‘dark horses’ tag as they have donned in quite a few tournaments. They have a strong team which is emphasised even more by a strong midfield capable of taking on any team. Today, it was once again the midfield duo of Modric and Rakitic who took the game to Argentina particularly in the second half and bagged a goal each.

For Argentina, it has been a disaster of a World Cup. They have fluffed what is probably Messi’s last chance at winning a world cup while he is still at the top of his game. Much of the spotlight might be on Messi himself but the rest of the team too need to have a good look at themselves in the mirror. It would take a huge slice of luck for them to scrape through. They will hope Iceland don’t win today and then try and take care of Nigeria by a margin to improve their Goal Difference and confidence. Mind you Argentina lost to this same Nigeria side in November.

Some interesting facts about this game:

  1. This is only the second time since the start of the 2017/18 season that Messi has registered less than 2 shots in a game. The other game was against Chelsea away.
  2. Between them, Higuain and Aguero only had 2 touches in the opposition box during the game.
  3. This is Argentina’s biggest group stage defeat at a World Cup since 1958.
  4. Sergio Aguero did not touch the ball in the first half post the 24th Minute.

In general, as a football fan, it is hard to see Messi struggle in this way for an international trophy. He has won everything at the club level but it is that national trophy which has always eluded him. He will most likely have to wait for yet another 4 years for a World Cup.

Featured Image via Sportingnews.
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