Argentina biggest World Cup finals group-phase defeat since 1958 means they are on the verge of failing to qualify for the knockout phase of this year’s competition.
Star man Lionel Messi was nullified as impressive Croatia eased through to the last 16 thanks to three second-half goals, with Luka Modric’s strike to make it 2-0 the pick of the trio.
Argentina will now need to defeat Nigeria in their final group game and hope Iceland do not defeat Croatia in their final game.
Messi, Argentina’s record scorer, has now had 12 shots in Russia without a goal – the most by any player at the tournament without scoring – and gone six World Cup matches without finding the net.
Coach Jorge Sampaoli, who left Serie A’s joint-top scorer Mauro Icardi from his squad, again came under fire post-match, not only for his decision to start goalkeeper Willy Caballero, whose error was ruthlessly punished for the opening goal, but also for taking off Sergio Aguero while choosing not to start Juventus’ in-form Paulo Dybala for a second successive match.
Former defender Pablo Zabaleta, who was working as a summariser for the BBC in the UK, commented: “I cannot remember a performance like that. The team looks so poor. They were predictable and did not create anything.”
Messi, who reversed his decision to quit international football in 2016, looks unlikely to go one step further than four years ago in lifting the trophy, and the Nigeria game could be his last at this level – certainly his final appearance in this year’s tournament on this evidence.
Zabaleta added: “I just feel so sorry for Lionel Messi. This was his last chance to win something with Argentina – so I wouldn’t be surprised to see him retire from international football after this.”