Argentina are in danger of making an early exit from the 2018 World Cup after suffering a demoralising 3-0 defeat to Croatia at the at the Nizhny Novgorod Stadium on Thursday.
- Argentina 0 Croatia 3
- Argentine defence looks shaky
- Rebic (54′) benefits from Caballero howler
- Modric (80′) doubles Croatia’s lead
- Rakitic (90′) seals progress to last 16
Second-half goals from Ante Rebic, Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic sealed a memorable victory over the South American giants, who were second-best in Nizhny Novgorod.
The Blazers booked their passage to the round of 16 with two wins from two in Group D, while La Albiceleste must beat Nigeria on Tuesday to stand a chance of reaching the knockout stages.
Argentina came into the game desperate to get their tournament back on track, but it was Croatia who created the first opening as early as the fifth minute.
The Argentine defence was caught sleeping when a simple clearance from Danijel Subasic sent Ivan Perisic clear and the Inter Milan winger was only denied by a fingertip save from Willy Caballero.
Jorge Sampaoli’s side almost took the lead in bizarre fashion midway through the first half as Marcos Acuna’s cross from the left bounced off the top of the crossbar and out of play.
The Blazers spurned a golden chance to take the lead three minutes after the half-hour mark. Great work down the right wing from Sime Vrsaljko saw him deliver a fine cross to the back post, where Mario Mandzukic failed to hit the target with a close-range header.
But Zlatko Dalic’s men took the lead nine minutes into the second half when calamitous defending was punished in ruthless fashion. Caballero fluffed an attempted dinked pass over the head of Rebic, who lifted a superb volley over the keeper into the back of the net.
With their World Cup hopes hanging by a thread, La Albiceleste sent on Gonzalo Higuain. who almost made an instant impact in the 65th minute. The second-half substitute got to the left byline and cut the ball back into the danger area, where Enzo Perez forced Subasic into a good save with a low shot and Lionel Messi was also thwarted at close range on the follow-up.
Croatia sat back and soaked up the pressure before they hit the Argentines with a devastating counter-attack. Marcelo Brozovic found Modric just outside the area and the Real Madrid playmaker did not need a second invitation to shoot, curling the ball into the bottom-right corner of the net from 22 yards out.
The group leaders struck again at the death as La Albiceleste committed men forward but were punished at the other end. Mateo Kovacic beat the offside trap and laid the ball off for Rakitic, who side-footed home in acres of space.