epa06828736 Lionel Messi of Argentina (L) and Luka Modric of Croatia in action during the FIFA World Cup 2018 group D preliminary round soccer match between Argentina and Croatia in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia, 21 June 2018.
Thursday Jun 21, 2018. 21:57
Croatia crushed Argentina 3-0 in a Group D clash at the 2018 World Cup in Nizhny Novgorod on Thursday night, advancing into the last 16 and leaving the South American heavyweights in deep trouble.
‘The Blazers’ are top of the pool with six points and safely into the next round, while ‘La Albiceleste’ have just one point to their name and are clinging to life in a tournament they entered as one of the favourites to win.
Croatia almost claimed the lead in the fourth minute, with winger Ivan Perisic getting away a shot from the left of the penalty area which needed an excellent save from Argentina goalkeeper Willy Caballero.
Argentina gradually worked their way into the game and began to create the chances, though their best scoring opportunity arrived on the half hour mark thanks to some calamitous defending from the European side and saw Enzo Perez effectively miss an open goal.
On 33 minutes ‘The Blazers’ were guilty of spurning a great chance of their own, as an inswinging cross from the right flank picked out Mario Mandzukic’s late run at the back post, but the striker put his diving header wide of the mark with only Caballero to beat.
The first half produced no goals, but eight minutes after the break Croatia claimed the lead through a brilliant strike from Ante Rebic. The attacker benefited from a poor attempted clearance by Caballero, but his first-time volley into the back of the net was arguably the most superb finish of the tournament thus far.
Argentina so nearly claimed an equaliser just over 10 minutes later, but Danijel Subasic made a great save to keep out Perez’s low shot, and the rebound saw Ivan Rakitic make a crucial block to prevent Lionel Messi sweeping home the loose ball.
‘La Albiceleste’ manager Jorge Sampaoli threw on Cristian Pavon, Gonzalo Higuain and Paulo Dybala in an attempt to spark his team back into life, but on 80 minutes Croatia landed the knockout blow when Luka Modric worked space for a shot from long range and beat the left hand of the ‘keeper to make it 2-0.
Ivan Rakitic, who hit the crossbar from a free kick in the 86th minute, wrapped up the scoring in the first minute of injury time, tapping home from close range after the Argentina defence had gone AWOL.
Croatia (0) 3 (Rebic 53’, Modric 80’, Rakitic 90+1’)
Argentina: Caballero, Mercado, Otamendi, Tagliafico, Salvio (Pavon 56’), Mascherano, Perez (Dybala 68’), Acuna, Messi, Aguero (Higuain 55’), Meza
Croatia: Subasic, Vrsaljko, Lovren, Vida, Strinic, Rakitic, Brozovic, Rebic (Kramaric 57’), Modric, Perisic (Kovacic 82’), Mandzukic (Corluka 90+3’)