2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia: Oh no, ARGENTINA! | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, June 23, 2018 / LAST MODIFIED: 02:18 PM, June 23, 2018

Tryst with Telstar


What a shocker it was! No football buff, I believe, saw this coming. Argentina, the powerhouse of world football, are on the brink of elimination this early from the World Cup in Russia.

A 3-0 thrashing at the hands of Croatia numbed the Albiceleste fans, who were rightly expecting the two-time world champions to regroup after the 1-1 draw against World Cup rookies Iceland and hit the right groove.

But the way they played was total rubbish, as our finance minister Abul Maal Muhith would have loved to sum up in disdain. Soon after the humiliation, social media and regular media were abuzz with cries and criticisms, wondering what had gone wrong with Jorge Sampaoli's men.

The scale of fury and frustration has gone up to an unbelievable extent, so much so that 'Don't cry for me, Argentina', the hit song of 1976 in the film Evita, returns to encapsulate the expressions of fans and media alike.

Right from the whistle go, Argentina, studded with superstar and stars, seemed like 11 cats on a hot tin roof. The famed footballers seemingly treated Telstar, the high-tech official football for the tournament, as a ball of fire. Too desperate to dispatch the ball the moment one received it. Defenders exchanged short passes too close to their ball-chasing opponents and went on to lose control of the ball several times in the opening half, drawing groans and grunts from the stands and from millions watching across the globe.

It was too dangerous and absolutely unnecessary. And Argentina paid the first price through their nose because of this madness. Following some short-pass exchanges, goalkeeper Willy Caballero scooped up the ball from deep inside the box for Croatian winger Ante Rebic to hit home perfectly. It was a gift to Croatia from a goof of a goalkeeper. And, for decades to come, it will be seen as one of the ugliest goals ever scored off a blunder.

A crucial match it certainly was. And Argentina could not cope with this pressure. They started off the game with pressure plastered all over their faces. They appeared too tense to think clearly and build a planned attack. The match required cool customers, from coach to keeper. Coach Sampaoli himself demonstrated the unwanted image of impatience. Tensed, Sampaoli was seen stomping around in front of the bench, throwing his hands, grumbling, gesturing, taking his jacket off and what not. This overly tensed image of a manager played a part in pushing his charges over the edge! As it happens in such matches, a staggering 38 fouls were committed, 16 of them by Argentina.

With Argentina being a bundle of raw nerves, Croatia could take total control of the match gradually. Luka Modric showed his opposite number Lionel Messi how a No 10 was supposed to play by hammering in a pile-driver after twisting and turning through a few defenders. Ivan Rakitic made it 3-0 some time after his magnificent free-kick ricocheted off the far post.

So, should Argentine daggers be out for Messi, the five-time Ballon d'Or winner and arguably the greatest player on earth? It will be very unfair.

Argentina is more than Messi. In fact, all the glittering stars of leading clubs make Argentina. Javier Mashcherano, Sergio Aguero, Enzo Perez, Eduardo Salvio, Gonzalo Higuain, Angel di Maria, Paulo Dybala and so on. Together, they should have formed a team of Invincibles.

Unfortunately, Sampaoli, like his predecessors, failed to mould his players into a team. They played like listless individuals and without any objective. They were eleven players but still not a team. Here the role of a coach becomes so crucial. Sampaoli failed to play that role. He also appears not to be a good tactician.

Argentina didn't have a game plan. If they had one, they forgot about it as soon as they entered the field. They played like disjointed pieces of a machine. Defence was delinked from midfield and midfield oblivious of its forwards. The supply from midfield to Messi or other forwards was almost nil. Argentina was designed to fail.

Croatia advance to the round of 16, and Argentina hope against hope for a miracle in Group D to qualify as the other team. And if that does not happen, the World Cup would be less exciting without Messi.


The writer is former Sports Editor of The Daily Star 

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