Two-time Champions Argentina faced off against Croatia for their second game in the FIFA World Cup 2018 in Russia. This game was absolutely crucial for Group D and was won by the European side with a scoreline of 3-0.
Argentina came out with a changed lineup and formation. Manager Jorge Sampaoli wanted a change and he tried to mix things up. Angel Di Maria went to the bench.
The game started off at a decent pace, both teams were even. Croatia and Argentina traded blows, almost trying to feel each other out. They both know how strong the other one is, so cautiousness took precedence. It was apparent that the body language of the players that Croatia was more confident. That's what a win can do for you.
Since neither teams were able to create clear-cut chances midway into the first half, physical challenges were coming into the play. The teams were getting restless as both of them were canceling each other out. This was a highly technical matchup between the two sides and a pure joy for a football fan.
In the latter part of the first 45 minutes, The Blazers took over the game and were dissecting past Argentina. Mario Mandzukic's diving header effort was just inches past Cabellero. Finalists of the 2014 World Cup looked out of ideas, and the half-time couldn't have come at a better time for them.
If the scores remained the same, Croatia would actually have an amazing chance to capture the top spot of the group.
However, they had other ideas and upped the ante in the second-half. They were more energetic and assertive in their intent. Swarming the Argentinean players so they'd make mistakes was the initial strategy. It was speculated that this philosophy was deployed so the players could get the ball and counter. But, it came fruitful for Croatia in a different sense altogether. Cabellero miscued a simple pass to one of his defenders to chip it in the path of Ante Rebic who smacked the ball with his right foot past the keeper. A phenomenal finish but a ludicrous gaffe by the Argentinean goalkeeper. This will haunt till for the rest of his playing career.
This was the kicking up the bottom that Argentina needed, and the team responded. Lionel Messi was getting more involved in the game and was creating chances as well as spaces for himself. The team responded with inspired runs as well.
Meanwhile, Croatia was being potent on their own counter-attacks. They were exposing the weaknesses of Argentina and an argument can be made that they still generated better chances in the dying embers of the game.
Ivan Rakitic and Andre Kramaric combined well in the 80th minute of the game to give it to their captain Luka Modric. The Real Madrid star bent his shoulder and jinked past Otamendi to score one past Cabellero with an insane strike. The game at this point was done and dusted, and an argument can also be made about Argentina's chances of advancing.
The end to the game came with ugly scenes. Rakitic was fouled by his FC Barcelona teammate Javier Mascherano. Otamendi in frustration almost kicks the ball at Rakitic's face. He was lucky to not be sent off there and then. Extremely unprofessional and uncalled for actions. He made them all pay by scoring the third goal and complete the humiliation in the 90th minute.
A lot of talks about Messi and his teammates will be done following this display. Their only hope of advancing remains in the hands of fate and divine intervention.
Regardless, Croatia deserves all the credit in the world for this excellent display. They have now become the third team after Russia and France to book their Round of 16 spot.