Belfast Telegraph

Messi's hopes of glory in Russia hang by a thread

 

Head scratcher: Lionel Messi and Argentina are on the verge of elimination
Head scratcher: Lionel Messi and Argentina are on the verge of elimination

By Graham Luney

Not even captain Lionel Messi could inspire Argentina's demoralised troops as their World Cup dream was virtually shattered by classy Croatia last night.

Barcelona superstar Messi looked on helplessly as Argentina crashed to a 3-0 defeat, their heaviest loss in the first-round group stage of a World Cup since a 6-1 hammering by Czechoslovakia in 1958.

The result means that an Iceland win over Nigeria today and a draw between Croatia and Iceland in their final game will see Argentina eliminated.

A goalkeeping howler from Willy Caballero gave Croatia a 53rd-minute lead, with Ante Rebic inflicting the ruthless punishment, before Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic completed the rout.

Skipper Modric said: "We wanted to cut out Messi receiving the ball because he is the most dangerous player. We were deserved winners."

Argentina boss Jorge Sampaoli said: "First and foremost I beg for the fans' forgiveness. The reality of the Argentina squad clouds Lionel Messi's brillance.

"The team doesn't gel as well as it should.

"We didn't manage to find relationships that Argentina or Lionel Messi benefited from."

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