Argentina’s 2018 World Cup campaign went from bad to worse as they slipped to a 3-0 defeat to Croatia on Friday evening.
An error from Willy Caballero coupled with strikes from midfield dynamos Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic proved to be the difference between the two sides and the result now leaves Argentina’s World Cup hopes in the balance. Croatia, on the flip side, will be celebrating tonight after confirming their place in the last 16.
Argentina made three changes in personnel from the side that stuttered to a disappointing draw against Iceland with Gabriel Mercado, Enzo Perez and Marcos Acuna coming in to replace Marcos Rojo, Lucas Biglia and Angel Di Maria. Croatia on the other hand made just one change with Andrej Kramaric making way for Marcelo Brozovic.
The atmosphere in the Nihzni Novgorod Stadium was simply electric upon kick-off and Argentina looked to take control of the game by dominating possession in the opening exchanges.
But it was Croatia who fashioned the first chance of the game after a long ball over the top of the Argentina defence unleashed Ivan Perisic. The winger lashed in a decent effort from a tight angle which forced Willy Caballero into a brilliant save down to his left hand side.
Argentina responded well and lady luck was almost on their side 20 minutes in when Marcos Acuna’s misplaced cross found itself heading towards goal, only to skim across the top of Danjel Subasic’s crossbar. Argentina would be ruing their luck again when a pin-ball situation broke out in the Croatian box only for Enzo Perez to blast wide from close range when he had the whole goal to aim for.
But missing golden chances wasn’t exclusively an Argentinian trait. Croatia should have been ahead when Sime Vrsaljko whipped in a delicious ball to Mario Mandzukic at the back post. The Juventus man was unmarked and looked certain to head home but instead he managed to miss the ball entirely, leaving both sides goalless at half-time.
After an untidy start to the first half, Caballero had an absolute shocker to gift Croatia the lead. Whilst dealing with a simple back pass, he nonchalantly miscued his pass into Rebic who punished the mistake with an outstanding volley into the roof of the net, much to the Chelsea goalkeeper’s dismay.
A quiet ten minutes followed before substitute Gonzalo Higuain burst into the Croatian box and subsequently cut the ball back to Meza. The midfielder stabbed an effort at goal but was denied by the legs of Subasic, who then sprung up to flick the ball behind for a corner.
Argentina were beginning to become increasingly frustrated, but it was about to get a whole lot worse for them. With ten minutes to go, Luka Modric capped off a splendid performance with a goal of epic proportions.
He received the ball on the edge of the 18 yard box, jinked past Nicolas Otamendi before delivering an absolute peach into the left hand corner of the net, leaving Caballero clutching at thin air.
Croatia were inches away from compounding Argentina’s misery further when Ivan Rakitic struck a sweet free-kick from distance, only to see it crash against the woodwork.
But it mattered not as Rakitic got his goal in the final moments. A well crafted attack saw Caballero make a decent save but Rakitic was provided the ball to slot into an open net. It proved to be the final action of a thrilling match.