Commentary: Don't just blame Messi, also praise Croatia

Source: Xinhua| 2018-06-22 17:14:52|Editor: ZX
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By Paul Giblin

MOSCOW, June 22 (Xinhua) -- Argentina and Leo Messi have faced fierce criticism following their 3-0 defeat to Croatia on Thursday night which leaves their World Cup future hanging in the balance and depending on the result between Nigeria and Iceland on Friday evening.

Top Argentinean sports paper, 'Diario Ole' descried the Argentine side as a "House of paper" saying "they destroyed our souls once again," while website 'BolaVIP' described the defeat as "terrifying".

But poor, badly-organized and chaotic as Argentina were, with Messi looking lost - a peripheral figure in the World Cup which was meant to confirm his greatness, maybe fans and analysts are looking at things back to front. Sure, Argentina were bad. But Croatia were very good indeed, and although Argentina's failings may have contributed to the result, Croatia's excellent performance was arguably more important.

The Croatians had already given one demonstration of their abilities as they breezed past a decent Nigeria 2-0 in their opening Group D game, bossing the midfield with ease and controlling the rhythm of play.

Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic and Ivan Perisic controlled the midfield, with Modric scoring a stunning second goal with a curling shot from outside of the penalty area and Rakitic, given a freer role than at FC Barcelona, netting the third goal in the last minute.

Up front, Mario Mandzukic won nearly all his battles with the Argentine defense, creating space for Rebic, who netted the first goal with some assistance from Willy Caballero, while full backs Ivan Strinic and Sime Vrsaljko pushed forward to provide width whenever they got the chance.

The only weakness for Croatia seems to be in central defense, where Dejan Lovren's moment of hesitation almost allowed Argentina to take the lead in the first half. But overall coach Zlatko Dalic can be happy with what he has seen, because it's hard to say any of the 32 sides has matched Croatia's first two performances in Russia and he has even had the luxury of sending striker Nikola Kalinic home after he refused to enter the Nigeria game as a late substitute.

The question now is: how far can they go? It looks as if Croatia will face with Australia or Denmark in the last 16 and they would be confident of beating either, setting up a possible quarterfinal against a side from Group A or B, which could include Spain, Portugal, Uruguay or hosts Russia.

At the moment everyone is talking about Messi. But maybe we should be talking about Modric, Rakitic and Mandzukic.