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‘Absolutely Inconceivable’: How Argentina’s
press reacted to 3-0 defeat by Croatia

By sportswriter Michael Place NIZHNY NOVGOROD Russia (Xinhua) -- Argentina’s press and past players reacted savagely to the national team’s 3-0 loss to Croatia here, a result that has left the two-time world champions on the brink of World Cup elimination.

"On the verge of saying goodbye," said Clarin, Argentina’s largest newspaper, on the main page of its web portal on Friday.

"The team has been cut adrift and nobody seems to be prepared to save them."

Ante Rebic opened the scoring after a horrendous error by goalkeeper Willy Caballero and Luka Modric made it 2-0 with a stunning long-range strike.

Ivan Rakitic completed the rout in second-half stoppage time by rolling into an unguarded net.

Argentina’s five-time Ballon d’Or winner Lionel Messi was a peripheral figure for most of the match and had just one shot on goal.

The Albiceleste must now beat Nigeria in their final group fixture on Tuesday and need other results to also go their way if they are to progress to the knockout phase in Russia.

"Responsibility must be shared," Buenos Aires-based sports newspaper Ole said.

"It’s inconceivable that there has been such an accumulation of errors and that nobody has been able to stop them."

Ole columnist Jorge Trasmonte said the team had failed miserably in its pledge to accommodate Messi so that he could shine for Argentina as he does for Barcelona.

"What ‘Team for Messi’ did we see on Thursday?" Trasmonte wrote.

"One that passes the ball more to Willy Caballero than to Messi.

"One that almost didn’t look for him at all in the first 45 minutes.

"One which when he is on the right, decides to attack on the left.

"One that forces him to drift to the midfield, where his dribbling and pace has no way of passing an array of eight defenders to reach an area where he can cause damage."

La Nacion made reference to Messi’s "strange demeanour" while Argentina’s national anthem was played before the match, when he used his hand to cover a pained expression on his face.

And it bemoaned the team’s inability to make the most of the "gift that the God of football gave to Argentina".

"Having Messi and not knowing what to do with him was always a problem.

"Now there is another one: the situation of Messi himself.

"It’s as if he does not know what to do with himself either," the newspaper said.

In a series of scathing posts on social media, former midfielder Oswaldo Ardiles, who won the World Cup with Argentina in 1978, reserved his harshest criticism for Albiceleste coach Jorge Sampaoli.

"He [Sampaoli] ended his cycle by insulting Croatia’s players.

"Arrogant, ignorant," Ardiles said.

"Even with the best player in the world he wasn’t able to build a competitive team.

"He never selected the same eleven [in consecutive matches].

Only Messi was spared from Ardiles’ cutting remarks.

"Argentina’s decline in recent years was masked by this incomparable genius.

"We were lucky that he was born in Argentina.

"But even for him it was too much in the end.

"Leo, thanks for everything and good luck in the future."

Perhaps the most severe comments came from former Argentina midfielder Diego Simeone.

In a leaked phone text message that went viral on Friday, the Atletico Madrid manager said:

"What we saw against Croatia is the picture of what has happened over the past four years.

"There is no leadership, either from the coach, who should be leading, or the players, who should be led."

He added: "Messi is very good but that is because he is accompanied by excellent players.

"But if you had to choose between Messi and [Cristiano] Ronaldo for a normal team, who would you choose?"

Commentary: Don’t just blame Messi, also praise Croatia

By Paul Giblin MOSCOW Russia (Xinhua) -- Argentina and Leo Messi have faced fierce criticism following their 3-0 defeat to Croatia on Thursday night which leaves their World Cup future hanging in the balance and depending on the result between Nigeria and Iceland on Friday evening.

Top Argentinean sports paper, ‘Diario Ole’ descried the Argentine side as a "House of paper" saying "they destroyed our souls once again," while website ‘BolaVIP’ described the defeat as "terrifying".

But poor, badly-organized and chaotic as Argentina were, with Messi looking lost - a peripheral figure in the World Cup which was meant to confirm his greatness, maybe fans and analysts are looking at things back to front. Sure, Argentina were bad.

But Croatia were very good indeed, and although Argentina’s failings may have contributed to the result, Croatia’s excellent performance was arguably more important.

The Croatians had already given one demonstration of their abilities as they breezed past a decent Nigeria 2-0 in their opening Group D game, bossing the midfield with ease and controlling the rhythm of play.

Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic and Ivan Perisic controlled the midfield, with Modric scoring a stunning second goal with a curling shot from outside of the penalty area and Rakitic, given a freer role than at FC Barcelona, netting the third goal in the last minute.

Up front, Mario Mandzukic won nearly all his battles with the Argentine defense, creating space for Rebic, who netted the first goal with some assistance from Willy Caballero, while full backs Ivan Strinic and Sime Vrsaljko pushed forward to provide width whenever they got the chance.

The only weakness for Croatia seems to be in central defense, where Dejan Lovren’s moment of hesitation almost allowed Argentina to take the lead in the first half.

But overall coach Zlatko Dalic can be happy with what he has seen, because it’s hard to say any of the 32 sides has matched Croatia’s first two performances in Russia and he has even had the luxury of sending striker Nikola Kalinic home after he refused to enter the Nigeria game as a late substitute.

The question now is: how far can they go? It looks as if Croatia will face with Australia or Denmark in the last 16 and they would be confident of beating either, setting up a possible quarterfinal against a side from Group A or B, which could include Spain, Portugal, Uruguay or hosts Russia.

At the moment everyone is talking about Messi.

But maybe we should be talking about Modric, Rakitic and Mandzukic.



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