Argentina on the brink after Caballero’s Croatian catastrophe

Head in hands: Willy Caballero’s howler leaves Argentina close to an exit

Willy Caballero’s howler leaves Argentina on the edge and needing big favours to stave off elimination.

Ante Rebic’s volley after the Chelsea back-up goalkeeper’s moment of madness has the two-time winners facing an incredible group stage exit.

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Croatia iced the cake with a beauty from Luka Modric and composure from Ivan Rakitic but the damage was already done.

What was he thinking: Croatia go ahead as the Argentina keeper goes missing

If Nigeria lose on Friday then a draw between Croatia and Iceland in the final game will see one of the great names of international football dumped out, regardless of their result.

It of course means the great Lionel Messi, a ghost-like figure after being let down by his team-mates, is likely to end his career not a World Cup winner.

World Cup Group D (PA)

The first half demonstrated why confidence has been lacking about Argentina’s chances, Messi stifled with just 20 touches in the first 45 minutes summing up their issues.

The first chance fell to Croatia, Caballero called into action inside five minutes to keep the dangerous Ivan Perisic out low.

Argentina had a golden chance on the half hour mark. Croatia in a complete mess, Acuna did well on the left before a deflected cross fell perfectly for Perez only for his untidy shot to squirm wide.

In a Mess: Messi looks on as Croatia inflicted a brutal 3-0 World Cup defeat on Argentina

Though his red face was nothing compared to Caballero’s at the start of the second half.

Inexplicably, the former Manchester City keeper attempted to chip the ball over the head of Rebic to set up an attack.

He got it horribly, horribly wrong. Short by some yards, Rebic recovered from the howler he has just witnessed and his sharp volley was thrust beyond the blundering goalkeeper.

Head in hands, he knew what he had just done. Suddenly it wasn’t about the invisible Messi any longer.

Argentina huffed and puffed with half-chances falling their way but Croatia looked the more likely to find the game’s big next goal.

Luk who’s talking! Croatia’s Luka Modric great strike killed the game

It arrived when Real Madrid’s Modric took aim and unleashed a game-settling second.

Mighty Argentina look on their way out, Croatia go through after a final break-away goal confirmed it beyond any doubt.

Despite the keeper’s best efforts, the ball eventually fell to Ivan Rakitic who stoked it home to leave Maradona mad in the stands and their fans heading for the exits.

Their desperate team may not be far behind them.

 Argentina 0-3 Croatia  

  • This was Croatia’s first victory in five attempts against South American nations at the World Cup, having lost each of their previous four.
  • This was Argentina’s heaviest defeat in the first round group stages of a World Cup tournament since losing 1-6 to Czechoslovakia in 1958.
  • Argentina have failed to win either of their opening two group stage matches for the first time since 1974.
  • This was Croatia’s joint second biggest World Cup victory. They beat Cameroon 4-0 in 2014 and Germany 3-0 in 1998.
  • Argentina are now winless in their last four World Cup games (D2 L2), their longest ever such run in the competition.
  • This is only the second time Croatia have won both of their opening two games at a World Cup, after the 1998 tournament that saw them reach the semi-finals.
  • Ante Rebic’s goal was only his second for Croatia, and his first since August 2013 in a friendly against Liechtenstein.
  • Two of Luka Modric’s four goals in major tournaments for Croatia (EUROs and World Cup) have been from outside the box.
  • Argentina’s Lionel Messi – who had 11 shots in the opening game against Iceland – didn’t manage a single attempt in goal until the 64thminute of this match.
  • Argentine forward Lionel Messi has had more shots than any other player so far at this World Cup (12) but has failed to score with any of them.