Argentina are facing the prospect of an early exit from the World Cup after a damaging 3-0 defeat to Croatia, who have qualified for the knockout stages.
Messi and Sergio Aguero were kept quiet in the second half – the latter not touching the ball for the final 20 minutes of the first half – and frustrations were growing as decisions went against them.
Argentina needed a win after a surprise 1-1 draw against Iceland in their opening game, while Croatia knew a win would see them reach the last-16 stage after beating Nigeria 2-0 last week.
Croatia could lay serious claim to having the best central midfield at this World Cup. Rakitic and Modric were exceptional once again, ably supported by the willing Marcelo Brozovic. It would be tempting to give the award to Modric, especially after that stunning goal, but Rakitic’s quality and consistency was rewarded with an injury-time tap in and he just edges a close contest.
The result means that an Iceland win over Nigeria on Friday and a convenient draw between Croatia and Iceland in their final game would see Argentina eliminated.
All eyes were on Lionel Messi before the game after his saved penalty in the South Americans’ opening 1-1 draw with Iceland
Croatia came out the more composed side early, and weathered a few Argentina attacks that looked dangerous. The game got a bit chippy toward the end of the first half, but looked pretty square.
what just happened? A back pass to Argentina goalkeeper Willy Caballero sees him pop the ball up when trying to make a pass out, then Ante Rebic finishes with a beautiful volley.
Opening 1-1 draw with Iceland, Argentina go into their final Group D game with Nigeria with only one point and their hopes of staying in Russia beyond the group stage are hanging by a thread.
Modric made it 2-0 in the 81st-minute, jinking round his marker and unleashing a gorgeous curling shot.
Rakitic hit the bar from a free kick five minutes later before rolling into an unguarded net in second half stoppage time to complete the rout.