A sea of blue and white stripes had filled the Nizhny Novgorod Stadium for Argentina’s match against
Croatia, expecting their team to improve on their dismal performance in the first game against Iceland
and take a step closer to qualification. Never would have the thousands of Argentinian supporters
predicted the outcome that came to fruition today.
News had been made even before the game when Juventus talisman Paulo Dybala was left on the
bench, along with Angel Di Maria and Gonzalo Higuain. You would have still thought that an attack
spearheaded by Leo Messi and Sergio Aguero would be enough for a Croatian defense. And it would’ve
been, had it not been for some poor decision-making and finishing, especially from midfielder Enzo
Perez, who failed to score even with Croatian keeper Subasic out of the picture. Croatia themselves
created some good chances, the best of which fell to Mandzukic, who couldn’t turn his header in from
six yards out. A first half of defensive errors and poor finishing was overshadowed in the second half
when Argentinian keeper Willy Caballero mis-timed his clearance in the box and the ball looped up for
Ante Rebic to strike a magnificent volley and open the scoring for Croatia, leaving coach Jorge Sampaoli
holding his head down in embarrassment. Argentina looked very much a disjoint and unmotivated team
after that, barely able to string together good passes and create chances. Testament to that was the
withdrawal of Sergio Aguero immediately after the goal, who had just 21 touches in the first half.
Croatia defended in a much more organized way, getting rid of errors and petty fouls, keeping Messi and
the newly introduced Higuain and Dybala at bay. Soon their work bore fruit, as a break-away allowed
Luka Modric to tease at Otamendi and curl a wonderful strike around Tagliafico and past Caballero from
25 yards out, to send the Croatians into frenzy. Croatia stuck to their determined defending and the
counter attacking threat once again resulted in Rakitic having the easiest of tap ins to land the killer
blow and leave the thousands of Argentinian fans in tears. A well-deserved goal for Rakitic, who had
controlled the midfield beautifully along with Modric and Brozovic, and very well-deserved victory for
Croatia against an Argentinian team which frankly looked more like just eleven individuals playing
together for the first time.
If you asked an Argentinian fan when was the last time their team lost this bad at the World Cup, there’s
a good chance the fan would be speechless, because that happened way back in 1958. A dark day in the
vastly rich history of Argentinian football, which now means that Sampaoli’s men need not only a win in
their last game against Nigeria but also some favors from other teams to qualify for the next round, not
to mention some mesmerizing Messi-magic.