Sat, Jun 23, 2018 - Page 16 News List

FIFA World Cup: Argentina face exit after Croatia defeat

MESSY TEAMWORK:Coach Sampaoli after the game said the rest of the squad ‘clouds Leo’s brilliance,’ to which Aguero responded with only: ‘Let him say what he wants’

AFP, NIZHNIY NOVGOROD, Russia

Ivan Rakitic of Croatia, left, and Argentina’s Javier Mascherano, center, vie for the ball in their World Cup match on Thursday in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia.

Photo: EPA

Lionel Messi’s Argentina were on the brink of a humiliating World Cup exit on Thursday, after they were humbled 3-0 by Croatia on a dramatic day that saw the European side join France in the knockout rounds.

Argentina knew they had to chase a win after their 1-1 opening draw against Iceland, but instead collapsed in the second half to leave their campaign in tatters.

A horrendous mistake by goalkeeper Willy Caballero and two goals from Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic mean the two-time former champions have to rely on an unlikely sequence of results if they are to progress.

It was the heaviest defeat for the team in the first-round group stages of a World Cup since they lost 6-1 to Czechoslovakia in 1958.

Croatia sit at the top of Group D with six points. Iceland have one point, the same as Argentina, and Nigeria have no points, but both teams have a game in hand on the South Americans.

“I had to devise a plan for this match. If I had set things up differently, things might have turned out much better. I don’t think it’s realistic to put the burden on Caballero,” Argentina coach Jorge Sampaoli said. “I think because of the reality of the Argentinian squad, it clouds Leo’s brilliance. Leo is limited, because the team doesn’t gel ideally with him as it should.”

Sampaoli’s remarks implying that Messi’s teammates were to blame drew a blunt response from striker Sergio Aguero, hinting at internal tensions.

“Let him say what he wants,” Aguero said.

It is the first time that Croatia have progressed past the World Cup group stages since their third-placed debut in 1998.

“From day one I’ve trusted my team. I didn’t believe we would be through after the second game, but I believed we would be through eventually,” Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic said. “Argentina weren’t confused — we were excellent.”

However, a fierce post-mortem was already underway in Argentina, where the press tore into Messi and his team.

“Catastrophe against Croatia, Argentina disappoints and is on the way out of the World Cup,” Clarin wrote on its Web site.

“Argentina were ridiculed by Croatia and has jeopardized its future in the competition,” La Nacion added.

Meanwhile, France earlier joined Russia and Uruguay in the last 16 with a 1-0 win against Peru, who cannot now progress from the group stage after two defeats.

Kylian Mbappe tapped into an empty net in the 34th minute in Yekaterinburg and the South Americans were unable to respond.

Mbappe is now the youngest French goalscorer at a World Cup, aged 19 years and 183 days, beating David Trezeguet’s record of 20 years and 246 days.

Denmark, also in France’s Group C, stayed on course for the knockout rounds after drawing 1-1 with Australia in the early game of the day in Samara.

Christian Eriksen’s half-volley was canceled out by Mile Jedinak’s video-assisted penalty after Yussuf Poulsen’s handball, giving Denmark four points, while Australia are stuck on one point.

Australia coach Bert van Marwijk said the “last piece of the puzzle” — goals — was missing for his side, who had several chances to win the game.

“We had chances to win and we deserved to win, so I’m disappointed,” the Dutchman said.

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