Argentina’s 3-0 defeat to Croatia didn’t just endanger its long-held hopes of winning this World Cup, it threw its immediate survival into grave peril and beyond the control of Messi’s skill and willpower.
If Iceland beats Nigeria in a clash between Group D’s other teams on Friday, Argentina will need a miracle to advance at the World Cup. One of the most extraordinary players of this or any era is close to suffering heartache once more.
We don’t have all day so it’s pointless to name all of Messi’s club (with Barcelona) and individual honors. Yet it takes but a moment to reference the number of international titles he has steered Argentina to. It is none, no Copa Americas, no World Cups, and barring a miracle, no hope in this tournament either.
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It has never been for a lack of effort. Messi cares about his country and also his legacy, which will be partially dented by his international record but no more than that. He is one of the greats, shoulder-to-shoulder with Cristiano Ronaldo in this era and in the conversation with anyone, ever.
The Argentina coach was a mix of despair and anger on the touchline, responding to Ante Rebic’s first goal by replacing Sergio Aguero before the hour with Gonzalo Higuain, the Manchester City striker returning to the bench in disbelief. The grief at the end from an Argentina support that dominated the Nizhny stadium was real, not the kind confected for the television cameras, at a team so hopelessly configured.
Croatia were brilliant and Argentina were woeful. Rakitic, Rebic and Modric stole the limelight with captivating performances. Tomorrow, people will be talking about Messi and Argentina, but this Croatian team could well be a force to reckon with as the competition goes on.