Croatia qualified for the Round of 16 of the World Cup in an impressive fashion today. Lionel Messi and his star-studded Argentina were dealt a salty 3-0 loss. After a 1-1 draw against Iceland, the Albiceleste’s fate is no longer in it’s own hands. Croatia have deservedly won their both their games. The footballing World seemed to be rocked by the result today but the Croatian victory will not come as a surprise to anybody who have been following this team.
While Croatia do not have a player of the ilk of Lionel Messi or even Sergio Aguero, they have reliable, solid performers who operate in Europe elite teams. Luka Modric has been instrumental in Real Madrid’s conquest of Europe in the past years. The national team’s #10, who plays deeper in midfield at club level, has won 4 of the past 5 Champions League trophies. His rival in the league but partner at country level, Ivan Rakitic, is another Champions League winner with Barcelona, who won it in the only year in the last 5 where Madrid did not take the cup home. These two remind us of the Ramos-Pique partnership for Spain.
Croatia can also count on Mario Mandzukic who plies his trade at Juventus, who have won 7 successive Scudettos in the last 7 years. The Croatian striker is one of the best number nines in the World. Brozovic and Perisic also play in Serie A with Internazionale. Mateo Kovacic is another Madrid player who has tasted Champions League triumph. Dejan Lovren was integral part of the Liverpool which went all the way to the Champions League final this year. It’s fair to say Croatia have a strong squad which can compete with the best teams in the World.
At Euro 2016, they were one of the favorites to win the competition, especially after the group stage, where their bracket only had an underperforming Portugal as contenders. In contrast, the other knockout phase had eventual finalists France, Spain, Italy, Germany and England. Croatia were very unlucky not to defeat Portugal. Had they eliminated Ronaldo and co. they would have surely made the final. This national team has been making steady progress for a long time now.
Argentina has very good individual players but the recent instability has affected their preparation. The FA itself has had its fair share of issues. Lionel Messi spoke openly about it many times. The 5-time Ballon d’or winner himself contributed himself a little bit to the chaos by retiring and then coming back after the Copa America Centenario final defeat at the hands of Chile. Edgar Bauza was then appointed as coach but after it looked like the national team was not going to make Russia 2018, he was fired. Sampaoli, who architected Chile’s defeat of Argentina in the 2015 Copa America final, was then asked to replace Bauza. While he did manage to qualify for the event, he did not have enough time to instill his high pressing, aggressive tactics into the Argentine players like he did with Chile.
Lionel Messi, probably the best player never to win a major trophy with his country, might be exiting the World Cup soon. He will be rueing all the missed opportunities at silverware with the Albiceleste. La Pulga cannot be expected to carry the team on his shoulders. His colleagues need to step up their game. Had they not let him down on so many occasions, Messi might have had a World Cup and two Copa Americas to his name already.
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