World Cup 2018: 4 key battles that decided Croatia's win over Argentina
In a game that could have passed more for a Rugby game than for a game of World Cup football, Argentina were dealt a huge blow and several blows physically as Croatia crushed them with a 3-0 scoreline.
A Willy Caballero howler led to the opening goal, but in a move that would have made every Real Madrid fan's heart jump with joy, Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic hit the final nail on the coffin with a screamer from outside the box and a tap-in from a counter to put the Argentinians to sleep.
With no bright spots to take away for Argentina, and with the other match yet to be played, long and dark days lie ahead of them while Croatia book their spot in the next round.
As always, there were a few individual battles that went a long way in deciding the final outcome of the game, and here's a look at 4 of them.
#1 Lionel Messi vs Ivan Rakitic
Yeah, that wasn't even close.
Teammates at Barcelona, and rivals on the pitch here, it was Rakitic who came out on top. He did pretty much everything a player could do - he fouled hard, he got fouled hard, he scored, he hit the crossbar, he sprayed balls all over the pitch, he got a yellow card, he made a player get a yellow card for tackling him.
Messi, on the other hand, might just as well have not showed up. The lethargy from his Iceland game leaked on to this as well, and as a result, Argentina never really looked like a team that might have a shot at the trophy (or even points, for that matter).
In fact, Messi had fewer touches on the ball in the first half than Willy Caballero, and no matter how you read into this, no justification can be given for that. In the second half, Messi was so frustrated than he even fought it out with Rebic.
It was not just that. Knowing Messi, Rakitic also shadowed him to a T. Denying him a goal scoring opportunity, and staying with him every time he ventured into midfield. Knowing that Messi prefers the left foot, Rakitic saw to it that Messi never got that luxury.
Sampaoli's formation was also one of the reasons for his downfall, but we will get to that disaster a little later.