NIZHNIY NOVGOROD: Argentina, and Lionel Messi, are on the verge of going home after being beaten by Croatia 3-0 in Nizhny Novgorod on Thursday night. Here AFP looks at five things we learned from the match.
Is Messi beyond criticism?
All the focus before the match was on how Argentina could get the best out of Messi, straight after it was why had his teammates failed to do so. But what of the player himself? His was a curiously listless and unenergetic performance against Croatia. Messi came to life only briefly and never threatened to either break the deadlock or lead an Argentinian comeback. For too long he has been untouchable. In all the fuss about why Argentina are such a disjointed team, maybe some of that lies with the Barcelona great.
How good were Croatia?
All the headlines and the attention will be about Argentina and Messi. But that should not take away from an outstanding performance by Croatia. They created the best chances in the first half, stifled Argentina throughout and never looked like relinquishing their lead. "We deserved everything we got out of the match," said coach Zlatko Dalic. He is right.
Modric the magician
In a bruising first half, only one player appeared to have any time on the ball, Luka Modric. In the second he continued to pull the strings and his splendid goal secured victory. It was predicted that a La Liga player would dominate the match, it is just that no one mentioned Real Madrid's Luka Modric.
Caballero the fall guy, but what about Perez?
Imagine how Willy Caballero will feel when he wakes up tomorrow morning -- if he manges to get to sleep. When the dust settles, it is he who will become a scapegoat for Argentina's "disaster on the Volga". But what about Enzo Perez's miss in the first-half? A virtual open goal after hesitation between Croatia's Dejan Lovren and goalkeeper Danijel Subasic, Perez squandered an easy chance and with it the opportunity to put Argentina ahead.
Argentina fans deserve more
Although there may be no sympathy for Argentina's players, there should be for the fans, some of whom broke down in tears at the end of the match. They turned up, as ever, in great numbers, sang heartily throughout and created an atmosphere that will be long remembered by those inside Nizhny Novgorod's stadium on Thursday. They, at least, deserve to stay in Russia a little longer.