By Nicholas Lavinio
Given the recent headline of the 1-1 draw against Iceland, the Argentinians founds themselves with a tall task on Thursday against the Croatian national team. Also in light of the draw, the match between Argentina and Croatia has been built up to be one of the most highly anticipated fixtures of the tournament so far, where Messi was given the opportunity to cement his greatness once again in international tournament competition, as he has done countless times before for his beloved Argentinian side. The result that ensued was simply an embarrassment for Messi and Argentina.
I knew that, from the start, the match was going to be a physical one, with both teams playing quickly in order to get into the flow of the game. Croatia came into the match having committed 20 fouls against the Nigerian side a couple of days prior, so I anticipated that the Croatians would not back down. This really was a game for Croatia’s taking: they were in the driver’s seat in the group, allowing them to play within their boundaries and their style. This probably was the best that the Croatian national team has ever felt going into a match against a powerhouse such as Argentina.
Both teams looked nervous from the gate and missed a lot of chances early on that could have dictated the course of the match. In the 4th minute, Ivan Perišić missed an early chance in the box. Just about 25 minutes later, Argentina literally missed a wide-open net when Meza placed the ball wide while inside the 18. Croatia quickly went on the counter and missed a sitter of their own when the Juventus striker Mandžukić mishit a perfect heading opportunity in the 33rd minute. When the half sounded, my senses were not tantalized and could not wait for the second half that might feature a hero whose name I had not even mentioned in the first half – Messi.
The second half proved to be abysmal for Argentina. The flood gates opened when Willy Caballero decided that he was Neymar trying to flick the ball over a defender in the 53rd minute. After mishitting what should have been a simple clear downfield, Croatia 1 : 0 Argentina. The 79th minute saw an absolute beauty of a strike from Luka Modrić just outside the box, and hopes for Argentina and Messi went wary – Croatia 2 : 0 Argentina. When all hope was lost, Croatia toyed with Argentina’s side with simple passing in the box in the 90th minute, as Ivan Rakitić sealed the deal for Croatia with a well-deserved pass into the net from about 6 yards away. Croatia 3 : 0 Argentina FT.
The most upsetting thing for me to watch as a soccer fanatic is that Messi, arguably the greatest player in the world, was completely nonexistent in the second half of that game, a time when his country needed him the most. His body language and demeanor were far from encouraging or motivating, attitudes that should come second nature to a captain nonetheless of any team, regardless of the situation. If we continue to criticize Argentina here, the head coach, whatever his irrelevant name is, seems to have something wrong with his brain. The fact that a side begins a match without Gonzalo Higuaín, Ángel Di María, or Paulo Dybala in the starting lineup is absurd. These world-class players with far more skill, knowledge of the game, and experience could do no less than at least help Messi’s side win, which clearly they struggle to do. Argentina has some wishful thinking and deep contemplation to do, as their fate in continuing in this tournament rests on the team’s own performance in their third match against Nigeria and some help from Croatia to beat Iceland in the coming days. God – if Argentina can’t beat Nigeria, I wouldn’t be surprised if the sun rises in the West when I wake up the following morning.
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