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NIZHNY NOVGOROD Russia (Xinhua) -- Sergio Aguero [left] of Argentina tussles with Croatia's goalkeeper Danijel Subasic during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Group D match between Argentina and Croatia in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia, June 21, 2018. Croatia won 3-0. XINHUA PHOTO - LI GA

What is pushing Argentina to brink of World Cup elimination?

BEIJING China (Xinhua) -- Millions of hearts were broken by the 3-0 defeat of World Cup favorites Argentina in the game facing Croatia at Nizhny Novgorod Stadium on Thursday in Russia.

With just one point from two group games, Jorge Sampaoli’s team is now on the brink of elimination. What’s done is done. But looking back to just a few weeks before the tournament, we may find that the seeds of the tragedy have already been sown.

Mauro Icardi, 25, was pinned high hopes to help Argentineans when he brought Serie A side Inter Milan back to the Champions League after six seasons, but his fantastic attacking ability was denied by Sampaoli.

Icardi was included in Sampaoli’s preliminary list of 35 players announced on May 14.

The Inter captain and the league’s best striker scored 29 goals in Serie A.

However, Sampaoli’s final choice of not bringing Icardi to Russia was based on "players that can do many functions to give us different characteristics," said the coach in a press conference before the tournament kicked off.

Facing the stronger and taller defenders from Iceland and Croatia, neither Lionel Messi nor Kun Aguero could create a good chance by themselves.

The Argentine wingers have tried their best to keep crossing over, but the world-class strikers failed to bring down the rivals’ defense.

With Icardi on the field, the situation might be very different.

"Inside the penalty area, Icardi has no equal on a global scale.

"When a cross arrives, he is deadly.

"If you want to build moves with central passing, then Gonzalo Higuain or Sergio Aguero are more suited, but if you do like Inter with tons of crosses flung into the box, where are you going to get anyone better than Icardi?" said Argentinean legend Jorge Crespo.

Sampaoli’s four attackers formation turned out incompatible with Argentina’s original system.

Without Icardi, the team couldn’t realize Sampaoli’s intention to make effective attacks.

To make things worse, the team couldn’t defend their goal with the absence of another key player.

Sergio Romero injured his knee last month in the run-up to the tournament.

The No. 1 Argentinean goalkeeper said he could recover before the World Cup, but the team went without him.

When Willy Caballero’s poor play contributed the first blood to his opponent on Thursday, Romero was missed by all Argentinean fans.

The last straw seemingly happened to be the core of the team—Lionel Messi, who has been considered as the king to bring his people to victory.

However, football is not a one-man game.

It is probably the team’s awe of him that has torn the team apart.

When Messi lost a penalty chance in Argentina’s 1-1 draw with Iceland, he was reportedly too frustrated to talk to anyone after that match.

To cheer him up, Argentina Football Association invited Messi’s wife Antonella Rocuzzo to Russia to console the team’s No. 1 star.

However, his overwhelming emotion kept him from carrying out his duties as a captain to encourage his teammates who were just as upset as he was.

Crespo once told Italian media that Icardi couldn’t be named on the final 23-men list because the forward isn’t Messi’s friend.

Whether it is true or not, the 2014 World Cup runners-up seem to have locker room problems.

When the team fell behind 1-0 on Thursday, few midfielders ran back to deal with Croatian counter-attacks.

Instead, players were witnessed by the huge audience complaining about their teammates’ faults on the field.

A team falling apart will inevitably fall from the top.

There is still a shred of hope for Messi’s World Cup dream.

Nigeria defeated Iceland 2-0 Friday in the second round of group games, raising a slim possibility of Argentina entering the elimination period.

If the Messi wants to lead his team to advance to the last 16, they must smash Nigeria in its third group match first.

The two Nigerian players John Mikel and Odion Ighalo, who played in the Chinese Super League, are good at playing counter-attack.

It would also be more favorable for Argentina if Croatia stay unbeaten against Iceland in the third round of group games.


Argentinian public downhearted after team’s 3-0 loss to Croatia

BUENOS AIRES Argentina (Xinhua) -- Crestfallen and dejected, the Argentinian public reacted grimly to their team’s 3-0 defeat at the hands of Croatia in the 2018 Russia World Cup on Thursday.

In Plaza San Martin, a park in northern Buenos Aires, many thousands of fans had turned up to watch their team’s second game in Group D. They left disappointed.

"That’s it, we’re out," said the most pessimistic of fans.

Others, intent on remaining positive in the face of a vicious drumming, refused to give up hope.

"We can still do it," they said.

Manager Jorge Sampaoli was heavily criticized for the inclusion of goalkeeper Willy Caballero.

The Chelsea shot-stopper, who made only three Premier League appearances last season, committed a terrible error to gift Croatia their first goal.

Surveys showed that more than 80 percent of fans preferred Franco Armani, a keeper who has been in exceptional recent form for Argentinian team River Plate, but Sampaoli did not budge.

"I’m disappointed and really annoyed, but such is football.

"Caballero has left us without hope.

"We’ll see if Armani goes for the next game and if we can make it to the knockouts," said one fan.

"We don’t have a goalkeeper," another fan said.

"In the first game (against Iceland) Caballero didn’t inspire confidence.

"We all knew we had to use Armani."

Wrapped in Argentinian colors, fans in Plaza San Martin suffered with every goal scored against their team.

Argentina’s Lionel Messi, considered by many to the greatest footballer of all time, could not affect the game.

Pablo, a young Buenos Aires native, said:

"I’m hurt because Messi didn’t deserve what happened today.

"They left him isolated, he couldn’t touch the ball, couldn’t find a goal."

Others were more scathing.

"It was awful, a total mess. We’re hoping that Nigeria beat Iceland on Friday."

Aldo, a Colombian tourist who was also watching the game, criticized the lack of spirit.

"You have to play as a team," he said, "and they didn’t do that today."

Despite being World Cup finalists in 2014, Argentina managed only a draw against Iceland on Saturday before the loss to Croatia on Thursday.

They must now beat Nigeria and hope that other results go their way.

Nigeria striker Musa vows to score in match against Argentina in World Cup

VOLGOGRAD Russia (Xinhua) -- Forward Ahmed Musa scored twice to help Nigeria beat Iceland 2-0 Friday to keep their advancing hopes alive and he vowed to strike again in the last group match against Argentina in the ongoing World Cup in Russia.

"I think scoring against Argentina isn’t that hard," said Musa.

"We know the match against Argentina is very important. It’s do or die."

Croatia has collected six points out of two wins to lead the group and if Nigeria is able to defeat Argentina in the last round, the African side will advance into last 16 with Croatia and send Argentina packing.

"I can remember four years ago, I scored two goals while playing against Messi’s Argentina," he said.

"And when I played for Leicester in 2016 I played against Barcelona in a friendly and Messi is also playing, and I scored another two goals."

"So I think next game anything can happen.

"It’s possible that I’m going to score another two goals," he said.

Nigeria coach Gernot Rohr: We can knock Argentina out of World Cup

VOLGOGRAD Russia (Xinhua) -- Nigeria coach Gernot Rohr admitted his side had improved after the break as Ahmed Musa scored two goals to give his side a 2-0 win against Iceland in Volgograd on Friday.

The win leaves Nigeria in second place in Group D, knowing at a draw in their last game against an Argentina side in crisis will almost certainly see them into the last 16.

"It is a final in the group," admitted Rohr, looking ahead to the game against Argentina.

"We recently played them (Argentina) in a friendly in Krasnodar and we beat them 4-2 although there was no Messi," commented the Nigeria boss.

Rohr highlighted that Nigeria were an inexperienced side and would have to avoid errors in their penalty area.

"We have had two games and conceded two penalties, and both were committed by young players.

This World Cup comes a bit early for us and we will be better in 2022, but we have a good chance of beating Argentina," he commented, adding that the key on Friday was "to make good counter-attacks, we are a bit faster than Iceland and maybe we have the technical ability to play one or two touches."

Icelandic boss, Heimir Hallgrimsson admitted his side were below their best and put that down to a combination of temperatures of over 30 degrees centigrade in the Volgograd Arena and the effectiveness of Nigeria.

"It wasn’t a great game and we have played better, but I thought we all did our best, it could have been the high temperatures, but Nigeria played very well and they were hard to face today," he said.

"The first half was more or less as we wanted, it was 0-0 at the break, but the goal at the start of the second half, changed things: we had to push forward and Nigeria are very quick on the break.

"They were organized and first to the second ball and we have to give them credit," said Hallgrimsson.

"My players gave everything and all we have to do now is beat Croatia (to qualify).

"We’ve played them four times in four years and we’re like a married couple that wants a divorce," he said with a smile.



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