Croatia rolled on to a stunning 3-0 victory over Argentina that sent them into the last 16 of the World Cup. Willy Caballero’s clanger presented Ante Rebic with an opportunity he could not refuse and the goal fest started right from it.
Jorge Sampaoli’s side produced an abysmal second-half display that severely damaged their hopes.
Caballero’s stray pass to Gabriel Mercado was volleyed home by Rebic in the 53rd minute proved to be the turning point. Any hopes of a fightback were extinguished 10 minutes from time. Luka Modric whipped a fine strike into the bottom-right corner from just outside the penalty area to make it 2-0.
Argentina had all but given up by the closing stages and they were punished further in stoppage time. Ivan Rakitic tapped in from close range with barely a defender in sight.
All eyes were on Lionel Messi before the game after his saved penalty in the South Americans’ opening 1-1 draw with Iceland. And, once again he was a shadow of the player that has starred for Barcelona.
Messi cut an isolated figure throughout and was unable to rouse his side in the closing stages. It left them in danger of needing a win and a swing in goal difference to reach the knockout stages.
Sampaoli’s men were far from fluid in attack in the early stages. But did twice come close to breaking the deadlock. A superb Dejan Lovren block prevented Maximiliano Meza’s low strike finding the net. Then, Acuna’s whipped cross clipped the top of Danijel Subasic’s crossbar.
There was no such wastefulness from Rebic eight minutes into the second period. He unerringly rifled a volley past Caballero after the goalkeeper’s chip lacked the power to evade him.
Argentina almost bounced back soon after. But Subasic kept out Meza’s close-range effort from substitute Gonzalo Higuain’s cutback. There was no denying Rakitic in the 91st minute.
He slotted home from the centre of the box after Mateo Kovacic’s initial shot was saved . The goal also made a premature exit a distinct possibility for the two-time champions.
FT: Croatia 3-0 Argentina
Rebic 53′ | Modric 80′ | Rakitic 90+1′