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Argentina vs. Croatia 2018 World Cup: Croatia dominates Argentina, 3-0, earns spot in knockout round

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Midfielder Luka Modric celebrates after a goal during Croatia’s thumping of Argentina. (Johannes Eisele/AFP)

Croatia 3, Argentina 0

Group D, Nizhny Novgorod Stadium, Nizhny Novgorod

In supreme fashion, Croatia ran through Argentina on Thursday, 3-0, earning a spot in the World Cup’s knockout round for just the second time as an independent nation. The Blazers’ world-class midfield completed 289 passes, dominated defensively and, after a sloppy and scoreless first half, pierced and demoralized Argentina — four years ago a World Cup finalist — in the second.

“It was a shot in the arm for us — we played a perfect game and you need a perfect game to beat such a great team,” Croatia midfielder and captain Luka Modric told reporters afterward.

For as steady as Croatia has been in two wins against Nigeria and now La Albiceleste, Argentina has been shaky, conceding a draw to Iceland to begin the tournament, then opening the door for the Blazers with a howler of a mistake. Willy Caballero, Argentina’s keeper, duffed a clearing attempt in the 54th minute that Ante Rebić was right there waiting for. He sent a volley through Caballero’s silhouette to begin the scoring.

After that, the floodgates were wide open. Modric bent a wonder strike around a diving Caballero in the 80th minute. And in added time, the Blazers schooled Argentina down the field after a poor corner kick for a tap in by Ivan Rakitic, giving Argentina a catastrophic negative-three goal differential through two games.

“We were emotionally broken and we didn’t have any football arguments to make to change the course of events,” Argentina Manager Jorge Sampaoli said.

Rakitic’s Barcelona teammate, Lionel Messi, was thought to be the man to watch at the World Cup as he attempted to lead La Albiceleste back to a championship and emerge from the shadow of Diego Maradona. But that shadow grows longer now after a pair of dud performances that included Messi botching a potentially game-winning penalty attempt against Iceland.

“We cut off Messi, stopped him receiving the ball, he’s their most dangerous player,” Modric said.

“Leo is limited because the team doesn’t gel around him as it should,” Sampaoli added.

Argentina will now need loads of help, plus a win over Nigeria, to have any hope of advancing. Neither of those seem like a sure bet.

“We’re playing with a lot of pressure for our last match,” Sampaoli said. “We tried everything and clearly we didn’t find what we wanted to find.”
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