Croatia advanced to the Round of 16 for the second time in their history after cruising to victory over Argentina. With Lionel Messi lacking in inspiration, *La Albiceleste *paid for their defensive frailties on a dark night and are now on the verge of exiting the competition.
The eastern Europeans were content to sit back in the first half, aware that Jorge Sampaoli’s side had the greater need to attack. Though Argentina tried to take the initiative and enjoyed the lion’s share of possession, they were unable to convert it into chances, with Sergio Aguero and a visibly ill-at-ease Messi largely anonymous. And when the South Americans finally carved out a clear-cut opportunity, Enzo Perez contrived to shoot wide with the goal gaping.
Showing more ambition after the restart, the Croatians promptly revealed the shortcomings of their opponents’ rearguard. A penetrating presence on the right, Ante Rebic capped a fine display by capitalising on a Willy Caballero error with a superb finish.
Sampaoli turned to his bench for an immediate solution, and though Gonzalo Higuain, Paulo Dybala and Cristian Pavon all showed flashes of inspiration after coming on, there was to be no revival. Taking full advantage of Argentina’s lack of composure at the back, Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic both scored to compound their misery.