Football

Messi’s World Cup dream almost over, as Croatia mauls Argentina 3-0

Argentina are facing the prospect of an early exit from the World Cup after a damaging 3-0 defeat to Croatia, who have qualified for the knockout stages.
In a frantic game, Willy Caballero’s howler gifted the opening goal to Ante Rebic, who volleyed home, before Luka Modric beat the goalkeeper from 25 yards to seal the three points. Ivan Rakitic added a third in injury time.
The South Americans missed a number of chances in the first half, the best of which fell to Enzo Perez who missed an open goal after the ball fell to him following a mix-up in the Croatian defence.
Maximiliano Meza earlier had a goal-bound shot blocked and Marcus Acuna hit the crossbar. Croatia also missed a sitter when Mario Mandzukic headed wide when in acres of space inside the penalty area.
Argentina needed a win after a surprise 1-1 draw against Iceland in their opening game, while Croatia knew a win would see them reach the last-16 stage after beating Nigeria 2-0 last week.
Messi and Sergio Aguero were kept quiet in the second half – the latter not touching the ball for the final 20 minutes of the first half – and frustrations were growing as decisions went against them.
Their night got worse soon after the restart as Caballero inexplicably attempted to lift the ball over Rebic only for his attempt to lack power and the midfielder simply volleyed a return into the back of the net.
Lionel Messi’s mother will tell you that her son didn’t cry much as a child and rarely does now, saving his tears for the times of his most intense soccer pain.
Messi didn’t openly weep before he left the field in Nizhny Novgorod on Thursday night, but he surely must have felt like it.
Argentina’s 3-0 defeat to Croatia didn’t just endanger its long-held hopes of winning this World Cup, it threw its immediate survival into grave peril and beyond the control of Messi’s skill and willpower.
If Iceland beats Nigeria in a clash between Group D’s other teams on Friday, Argentina would be left needing a miracle to advance at the World Cup. One of the most extraordinary players of this or any era is close to suffering heartache once more.
It was a horrific mistake, which head coach Jorge Sampaoli reacted to by taking off Aguero and throwing on Gonzalo Higuain.
Argentina were getting desperate but pushed Croatia further and further back in the final 15 minutes until Modric’s sucker punch on the counter.
Substitute Andrej Kramaric held the ball up on the left before finding Modric centrally. A little shimmy to the right and Modric fired home from distance.
Rakitic put the icing on the result by tapping home into an empty net in injury time.
La Albiceleste will now be praying that pointless Nigeria can prevent Iceland winning on Friday. If the latter do win, a point will send them through in their final Group D-game regardless of Argentina’s result.

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