Argentina’s heavy defeat to Croatia was both a shock to the system, but also a very predictable result for the Albiceleste
1 – Another Sampaoli switch & another disaster
Jorge Sampaoli has not repeated a starting eleven in his year in charge of Argentina and after the poor performance against Iceland, La Albiceleste reverted from a 4-2-3-1 to a 3-4-3 for the clash with Croatia.
This is a system on paper that Sampaoli is more comfortable with but there was a reason why the Argentina coach abandoned it only a few games into his tenure.
Croatia exploited the gaps on either side of the back three and the odd midfield pairing of Javier Mascherano and Enzo Pérez failed to provide the much-needed passes to break Croatian lines.
A year in, a World Cup horror show and Sampaoli is no closer to a recognisable system or starting eleven.
2 – Messi’s dreams left shattered
After three consecutive final defeats, this was supposed to be Lionel Messi’s stage but it has instead been perhaps the most painful experience of all.
Surrounded by Icelandic defenders on Saturday, Messi tried to do everything in an effort to create for Argentina but against Croatia, the number ten found it difficult to even get the ball.
“Because of the reality of the Argentina squad, it sort of clouds Leo’s brilliance. Leo is limited because the team doesn’t gel with him as ideally as it should,” Sampaoli explained in his post-match press conference.
“We weren’t able to find Leo. We work all the time with the aim of getting Leo the ball, but our opponents work all the same to try and make sure it doesn’t reach him.” This has been the problem for a long time and Sampaoli still seems a million miles from a solution.
3 – Modric steals the show
With Lionel Messi skulking in the wings, Luka Modric took centre stage and shone under the spotlight as Croatia proved too much for Sampaoli’s ragged Argentina.
The midfield match-up looked a cause for concern for La Albiceleste before kick-off and while Croatian coach Zlatko Dalic arguably doesn’t get the best from his talented squad either, there was enough eventually to sweep aside Argentina.
Modric, the type of midfielder that Argentina could only dream of, pulled the strings and ended the contest with a fabulous long-range effort.
4 – Caballero clanger
There are a number of Sampaoli’s decisions that supporters will question but none more so than his persistence with Willy Caballero. The ageing goalkeeper emitted nerves throughout his defence against Iceland but nothing could come close to the decisive error against Croatia.
Selected because the Chelsea backup is supposedly better with his feet, Caballero scuffed a pass up into the air and allowed Ante Rebic to volley home the opening goal. A first goal that proved critical when both sides had missed chances to take the lead.
Caballero’s chance had passed four years ago but after Sergio Romero’s injury, Sampaoli should have listened to popular opinion and turned to Franco Armani.
5 – What next for Argentina & Croatia?
While Croatia are now being fancied as tournament dark horses, it’s perhaps a little too soon to start reading much into a victory over a side as disjointed as Argentina.
Argentina may not mathematically be out but after a woeful qualifying campaign, friendly thrashings, cancelled warm-up games and reported training ground discontent, it looks pretty much over.
Sampaoli’s position looks doomed and so the AFA will be left looking around for a coach once more, only as time goes on the once deep pool from which to draw from seems to be getting increasingly shallow.