Argentina put in a horror display against Croatia and have nearly killed their own chances of progressing to the knockout stages
In an appalling display, Argentina bowed out against Croatia in the most ridiculous manner to pour more cold water on their World Cup dreams. Argentinians often reduced themselves to looking like schoolboys getting ragged at a keg party and Croatia made most of their opponents’ shortcomings as they made sure their win was replete with goals.
Croatia looked the better side and the first goal was coming for quite a while. Then a ridiculous error by Willy Caballero gifted the Croats the lead. Then Luka Modric scored an absolute scorcher from 30 yards out to settle the nerves.
Subsequently, Rakitic and Kovacic tore the Argentinian defence with the most basic, unhurried counterattack to put the icing on the cake. Argentina were outplayed in every department and will need to pull more than one rabbit out of the hat to stay in this tournament.
Without further ado, let’s take a look at 3 things that Jorge Sampaoli’s men got wrong in their humiliating defeat to Croatia.
#3 The change in shape exposed the wings
Shifting to a 3-4-3 looked like a wise decision for the first 10 minutes when Argentina looked like they stepped out on to the ground with a spring in their step. But soon enough, Croatia were bombing down the flanks with Vrsaljko, Rebic, Strinic, Perisic and even the midfield duo of Rakitic and Modric enjoyed some freedom on the wings.
In addition to that, Tagliafico and Mercado struggled to provide cover at the back on either side of Otamendi who was nowhere near his best.
Most of Croatia’s attacks, though architected through the centre, manifested via the wings and if Mandzukic or Rebic had latched onto the opportunities that were served on a platter in the first half, the game would have ended much earlier.
Argentina’s inability to adapt and evident lack of flexibility ended up making them look like an average team that should have no say in a tournament as big as the World Cup.
It is an upset of sorts but Croatia are easily the better team right now. Argentina’s identity as one of football’s powerhouses is, now more than ever, in question.
#2 Inability to involve Messi and Aguero
Sergio Aguero didn’t register a touch on the ball in the last 21 minutes of the first half. He got one shot away for the while he featured. Lionel Messi was a total no-show. Drifting deep into midfield when Argentina were in possession and slacking away at the other end when they were defending, Messi was nearly impossible to spot on the field.
Argentina lost the midfield battle and were simply outplayed in the centre of the park by Rakitic and Modric. Aguero was severely starved of service as crosses kept getting pinged into irrelevance from either side. He was taken off early in the second half after Argentina conceded the opening goal of the game and the forward was clearly frustrated.
Messi failed to work anything of note even when he was presented with the opportunity but the blame that will befall him after this match will, undoubtedly, be of unwarranted proportions.
Argentina showed no grit or heart and the way Messi, Mascherano and Perez just stood 3 yards behind Rakitic and watched him slot the ball into the bottom corner will be a sight the Argentine fans will take some time to move on from.
#1 Lack of confidence and spending too much time on the ball
If you’re looking at Willy Caballero to transform into Ederson, you’re barking up the wrong tree. Caballero was lucky to have escaped without much tribulation after gifting Iceland a great chance towards the beginning of their campaign opener, with his severely substandard passing.
Today, he was at it again. In the first half, Caballero tried to initiate an attack from the back by passing the ball across to his left to Tagliafico. But the goalkeeper sold the defender short and Tagliafico got there just in time to deny Mandzukic a clear goalscoring opportunity.
His ridiculous mistake led to the first goal of the night. Mercado was being hot-tailed by Rebic and the defender passed the ball back to Caballero before wheeling away to the flank to receive the pass back. Caballero received the ball and tried to dink it to Mercado but ended up chipping the ball straight up in the air and straight into Rebic’s path.
The Croatian forward had no qualms about burying the ball in the back of the net as he punished Caballero with a thumping strike.
Argentina have a mountain to climb. Their players already lack the kindof confidence to dispatch the ball to a teammate quickly enough. If today’s performance was anything to go by, you could say that Argentina’s campaign looks well and truly over.