World Cup 2018: Qualification scenarios for Argentina
The draw against Iceland in their opening fixture meant that Argentina needed to step up in their second game against Croatia. But they did the complete opposite as they lost to Croatia 3-0 on Thursday.
After Argentina failed to get the three crucial points against Iceland in the first game, Argentina's coach Jorge Sampaoli advocated a new style of play in the second match that failed. The idea being that a bit of chaos created would free up Messi to get the ball in unsettled situations, but that did not happen.
Croatia's midfielder cancelled out the plans etched out by Sampaoli as they were quick to lock down Messi, thereby reducing his involvement in the game.
Messi couldn't run all over the pitch to get the ball at his feet when Argentina had possession, because Argentina didn't dominate possession like they did against Iceland.
After the horrendous mistake by the Argentine goalkeeper Willy Caballero in the 53rd minute, Sampaoli completely lost the plot, throwing on Higuain, taking off Aguero, bringing on other attacking players, as Argentina kept trying to do the same thing they’d been doing all game.
Things took a turn for the worse as Argentina all but quit after Luka Modric scored a beauty in the 80th minute of the game. The injury time goal by Ivan Rakitic was just a formality as most of the Argentine players did not even bother to jog back onto defence by that point.
The defeat leaves the Argentinians facing an ignominious repeat of their 2002 campaign when they also went out at the group stage after being tipped as possible World Cup winners. Argentina is now in a difficult position to advance out of Group D after securing just one point in the first two games.
While Argentina has just one point, Croatia are through to the next stage with six points in their kitty. Iceland and Nigeria who will face each other on Friday have one and zero points respectively.
All the permutation and combinations as to who will join Croatia in the round of 16 will depend on today's match between Iceland and Nigeria.
Here are the possible qualification scenarios for Argentina based on today's outcome:
#1 If Iceland beat Nigeria
If Iceland wins the match against Nigeria, Argentina will need to win the match against Nigeria in their final group stage match on Tuesday.
The win is necessary for the progress to the next round but is not sufficient as Argentina need Croatia to beat Iceland. The result will mean that both Iceland and Argentina will be locked down at four points each and it will come down to the tiebreakers.
If Argentina draw or lose their match against Nigeria, then they will be out of the tournament and Lionel Messi's last chance to lift the coveted trophy will end prematurely.
#2 If Iceland and Nigeria draw
In this case, Argentina will need to beat Nigeria and hope that Iceland do not beat Croatia in their final game.
Even if Iceland draw their match against Croatia, they will have only three points, one less than Argentina's and that will see the South American sail through.
If Argentina draw their match with Nigeria and Iceland lose to Croatia, then Nigeria or Iceland will go through based on tie-breakers.
#3 If Nigeria beat Iceland
The one thing is clear, Argentina will need to beat Nigeria. This will get them to four points over Nigeria's three.
If Croatia ties or wins their match against Iceland, then Argentina will be automatically through with four points.
But things might go down the tie-breakers if Iceland win their match against Croatia and Argentina will go through only if they have a better goal difference than Iceland.
How do the World Cup tie-breakers work?
If Iceland and Argentina end up at four points each after the completion of the group stage, the tiebreakers might come into play.
The team with the better goal difference (GD) will proceed to the knockout stages. If both Argentina and Iceland end up having the same GD then it will boil down to the goals scored and the team which scored more goals in the group stage will proceed further.
If Argentina and Iceland remain tied even after the first two tie-breakers, then there will be just two things left to do.
First, the fair-play tiebreaker. The disciplinary records in the tournament will decide the fate of the teams. While a yellow card takes one point off the team's total, an indirect (as a result of two yellow cards) and a direct red card take off 3 and 4 points respectively. The team with the highest total points remaining will advance.
If by any chance both the teams remain tied even after the fair-play tiebreaker, the only option left is a random drawing. The team with the better luck will go forward and the other team will have to head back home.