FIFA World Cup talking points: Argentina’s downfall

The surprises in the FIFA World Cup continue as 2014 runners-up Argentina have failed to win in their second straight game in the competition when they faced Croatia.

Many expected a tough match-up for the South Americans but few predicted the 3-0 thrashing they experienced against the European squad and the result has left them so close to elimination in the group stages.

With a talented line-up worthy of praise, little can be thrown Argentina’s way at the moment and their World Cup future is not in their hands as they can only hope that other teams drop points later in the schedule for them to squeeze their way through.

Here are a few talking points that contributed to their embarrassing defeat.

WILLY CABALLERO’S DREADFUL ERROR

Starting off with the eventual push that got the ball rolling, Argentina goalkeeper Willy Caballero had a howler to gift Croatia the first goal of the game.

As it was, the Argentines started slowly but then found themselves in a deep hole after their keeper inexplicably chipped the ball back to Gabriel Mercado after the latter made a routine back-pass to him.

Unfortunately, the chip went awry and bounced towards an on-rushing Ante Rebic. The Croatian saw the opportunity to strike and his determination saw him volley the ball perfectly past the keeper and onto the net.

It was a baffling error as he could have played the ball differently, but that was the beginning of the collapse of Argentina who were looking like a team regaining their bearings until that point.

ARGENTINA’S THREE-MAN DEFENCE DOES NOT WORK

Under the guidance of coach Jorge Sampaoli, the Argentine’s played a three-man defence that was supposedly going to highlight the strength of their midfield.

Nicolas Otamendi, Nicolas Tagliafico and Gabriel Mercado were posted as the main defence of Argentina, with the hopes that their strong midfield would not give up possession cheaply and catch the three off-guard.

Against Croatia, the plan backfired early and the South Americans looked vulnerable to counter-attacks as early as the first five minutes of the match.

The European squad’s depth in the midfield stretched Argentina’s defence with Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic able to play balls that the defence were not ready to stop.

It was definitely a tough day for the defenders and Argentina paid for it.

OVERALL CONFUSION ON ARGENTINA’S SHAPE

Along with the three-man defence, the South Americans had a 3-4-2-1 formation in the World Cup that should have eased the pressure on Lionel Messi and take advantage of the talent that they had.

As seen, it clearly backfired and once they went down 1-0 Argentina panicked as they tried to get the goal back.

Sampaoli brought in three attacking players with Gonzalo Higuain, Paulo Dybala and Cristian Pavon but sacrificed the midfield by bringing out Sergio Aguero, Eduardo Salvio and Enzo Perez.

This proved costly as the team were already struggling with their starting XI and it became much worse as the three-man defence only had help from Javier Mascherano in the midfield.

With most of the players left trying to attack, and failing miserably, Croatia found space to operate and eventually extended their lead to finish at 3-0, highlighting a dismal World Cup performance for the South American heavyweights.

FROM RUNNERS-UP TO OUT OF THE COMPETITION? POSSIBLY

In the World Cup, much was expected of Argentina after finishing as runners-up last year. As Copa America finalists in 2016 and 2017 there were hopes that they would finally reach the top of the World Cup mountain and win.

With two disappointing performances, Messi and company may be on their way out.

As it stands, Argentina are third and tied with Iceland with one point. If Iceland manage to beat Nigeria then they stand at four points and all they have to do is get at least a point against Croatia to go through.

Argentina need to beat Nigeria convincingly and hope that the two teams ahead of them play to win instead of play to eliminate the Argentina threat.

And with the team struggling as a whole, the job of beating Nigeria may not be as simple as it seems.

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