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World Cup 2018: The great fall of the Albicelestes

Ayan Majumdar
542   //    22 Jun 2018, 20:32 IST


The biggest upset in this year's World Cup was witnessed yesterday as one of the pre-tournament favorites fell from their pedestal, as Argentina lost 0-3 to Croatia in one of the Group D matches. As people across the world are still shaking their heads in utter disbelief, let's try and analyse the great fall of the Albicelestes.

Everybody knew that the strength of this Argentine team was in their attacking midfield and the Achilles heel was their defence. In their first game against a low ranked Iceland team, their 4 men defence was unable to cope up with the speedy counter-attacks of their opposition. It was a combination of technical capability, pace and ability to handle aerial balls. The weakness was quite evident. Hence, it was expected that Sampaoli, the Argentine coach, would focus on how to protect their own goal first.

However, to the surprise of many, Sampaoli started with a 3-4-3 system against a much better all-round team of Croatia. The risk was further enhanced by their attempt to draw the Croatians out of their defensive mindset. They were busy playing a lot of square balls between the goalkeeper and the three defenders outside their own penalty box.

What they did not realise was this strategy of risky passing was not at all required, as Croatia were never in a defensive mindset. Instead, they were pressing hard and chasing balls deep into Argentine territory so that no one in the blue-and-white jerseys could get any space to move. Caballero then made a deadly mistake in the start of the second half and gifted a goal to the Croatians. That was the turning point of the match.

The next critical factor was the lack of enthusiasm from Messi in this crucial match. The body language of Messi even before the game was very negative. When you have the captain and the key player of your team rub his forehead vigorously at the time of the national anthem, it is a cause for concern. Was it the pressure of the situation ? Was he not well at the start of the match? Did he not like the strategies being adopted by his coach? Questions that remain unanswered as of now.

It was also expected that Messi would go all out and give his best in a do-or-die situation. He is the livewire of the team and even when he is bottled up by the opponents, he creates space for others to capitalize on. Instead, throughout the match, Messi remained on the fringes and looked least interested. He was often strolling up and down the ground; there were no off the ball darts to make space; his head was looking down instead of up - all signals that spelt danger for Argentina.

The statistics showed the ineffectiveness of LM10 in the match. He did not have a single shot on target or off target, one shot was blocked; he provided 24 accurate passes with an overall accuracy rate of 75% and had no assists. If you compare the same numbers with his performances in La Liga, they make for grim reading. He had 4.3 shots on target per match, 42.8 accurate passes per match with an accuracy of 80%, 0.32 assists per match on average in La Liga. This was the second turning point of the match - the complete nullification of Messi.

The final reason for their defeat was their team selection. Talents like Pavon and Dybala were left on the sideline and with one striker in Aguero, Argentina could not capitalize on dead ball situations against tall defenders of Croatia. Immediately after Higuaín was brought on, they became more potent from set-pieces.

The people of the nation are angry and that anger is likely to boil over if Argentina are knocked out of the World Cup.

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