Argentina’s desperate World Cup campaign continued as they followed up their 1-1 draw with minnows Iceland with an abject performance against Croatia that saw them humbled in a 3-0 thrashing at the Nizhny Novgorod Stadium.
Following a first half in which both sides failed to break the deadlock – the importance of the occasion clearly weighing heavily on the minds of both sets of players – Argentina saw themselves fall behind in this critical tie in horror-show circumstances.
Having fielded a seemingly regulation back pass, Chelsea’s Willy Caballero inexplicably handed his side’s opponents the initiative early on in the second half as his poorly executed chip over Ante Rebic afforded the striker the opportunity to volley home into an exposed net in the 53rd minute.
Behind, a stunned Argentina failed to break down a dogged, defensively resolute Croatia – their collective firepower ineffective in securing a foothold in the tie.
Their bid to regain parity in the match saw a succession of opportunities for Croatia to hit Argentina on the counter emerge, which they capitalised on to devastating effect.
Luka Modric doubled his side’s lead on the 80-minute mark, a moment of genius from the Real Madrid playmaker leaving Argentina staring into the abyss of a potential early exit.
Ivan Rakitic soon added a third, putting the result beyond doubt and sending the Croatian fans into a state of euphoria as they sealed qualification with a game to spare.
We previously questioned whether the Messi magic would be enough to see Argentina through to the knockout stages of the World Cup.
That question was answered in no uncertain terms on Thursday, the man widely considered to be the best in the world cutting a forlorn figure as the 2014 runners-up were run ragged by an opposition brimming with superior belief and determination.
At a time when he would have believed he was deserving of repayment for the endeavour he has put into the last 13 years of representing his country at international football, little was forthcoming as Aguero, who bagged 21 league goals in 25 appearances for Manchester City, and Gonzalo Higuain failed to carry the load.
The Barcelona superstar scored 34 goals in the 2017/18 season. He may well be lucky to add a solitary additional goal to that record.
With Argentina on one points,they must now beat opponents Nigeria if they are to leapfrog them and secure qualification from the jaws of a humiliating exit.
While you would be foolish to bet against Argentina, a return to life that hasn’t been witnessed since Lazarus of Bethany is seemingly required if the team are to remain in the competition.
As the prospect of qualification becomes evermore unlikely, a post mortem of the team’s 2018 World Cup may well be underway sooner rather than later.
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