The Albiceleste were handed a hiding by Croatia while France seal last 16 berth with 1-0 win over Peru that eliminated the Incas from the World Cup.
Argentina are left battling for their lives after being battered 3-0 by a clinical Croatia as Ante Rebic, Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic all struck apiece to push the Albiceleste on the brink of an early exit. The Blazers followed France into the last 16, who beat Peru by a solitary goal earlier in the day. Australia held Denmark in the day’s first game to crack open a glimmer of hope of progressing to the next round of the FIFA World Cup.
Plenty to discuss here, but let’s get to the bottom of the major takeaways from Matchday 8 of the World Cup.
#5 Denmark rest on their laurels
Having made a bright start to the match that also saw Christian Eriksen putting Denmark in front inside 10 minutes, they slowly petered out as Australia gained hegemony. The Danes were okay to let the Socceroos have the ball and spent majority of the second-half absorbing the pressure. It was as if they were content to take a point from the game. But this ploy may now come back to bite them in the final game against France.
Les Blues sealed a last 16 berth with a 1-0 win over Peru later in the day, driving them out of the competition. So now the fight for a runners-up spot is between Denmark and Australia. Should the former lose to France while Socceroos win over Los Incas, Denmark would be heading home. Despite France’s own underwhelming displays, it’s hard to see them going down given the embarrassment of attacking riches in the team.
Should they lose and bow out, Denmark would look back upon this particular game and rue not going for the kill.
#4 Australia on the beneficial end of the VAR
The 2-1 defeat to France in the opening game last week saw some VAR melee resulting in the Socceroos conceding a penalty. Today, the tables turned and Australia were the beneficiaries. Yussuf Poulsen inadvertently handled the ball inside the area during a set-piece that the match official initially missed, but after looking into the screen, awarded Australia a penalty.
Mile Jedinak once again made no mistake, striking his 16th penalty in as many attempts, but there are questions about the legitimacy of it. The VAR rulebook suggests a handball can only result in a penalty if the contact is made deliberately. Here, the ball came off Matthew Leckie’s head before hitting off Poulsen’s arm while on its way out of relevance. It happened when both were competing for the ball in the air and cannot be adjudged deliberate.
It might be a bit harsh for Denmark, but it certainly kept Australia’s slim chance of progressing alive.
#3 Peru didn’t learn lessons from Denmark defeat
In the facile 1-0 loss to Denmark in the opening game, Peru was guilty of missing a few chances though they were largely subdued when it comes to creativity. Some bad first-touches and inaccurate shots made even the smidgen of opportunities go astray. Add to that Christian Cueva’s satellite reaching penalty.
So if there was one thing that Los Incas needed to do better today, then it was their press. But Peru didn’t appear to heed to it and remained just as frustrating going forward. Clear-cut chances were at a premium and player attempted most of their shots from outside the box. Aquino came the nearest when his volley hit the far post, but Paulo Guerrero was presented with a chance in the dying embers through a free-kick in a good position, but his tame effort was easily bundled in by Lloris.
Peru were once again running short of attacking flair and just didn’t do enough to really push France on the backfoot. And were made to pay for it eventually as an early elimination has come to pass.
#2 Sampaoli screws up with his tactics
When the team sheets were announced, certain pre-match premonitions had come true. Angel Di Maria was dropped to the bench as Sampaoli reverted to a 3-man backline. Eduardo Salvio and Marcos Acuna were the wingbacks in a 3-4-2-1 system meant to unleash the predator in Messi. However, it took just two minutes to expose all the frailties in this system. Croatia was handed acres of space at the back as Salvio and Acuna were repeatedly caught upfield.
Mercado, Otamendi and Tagliafico, the three center-backs for the evening, parted like the red sea and lacked communication among themselves. The ease with which Croatia through this defense was stunning to say the least.
With Aguero, Messi, and Meza all disappointing, the former Chile gaffer opted to throw caution to the wind when his side were trailing 1-0 in the second half, bringing on Higuain, Dybala and Pavon to bolster the attack. But this left Argentina more vulnerable as an aging and off-the-pace Mascherano was left alone to shield the back three. And poor Masche, he was devoured by the Croatian attackers.
#1 This Argentina team is a big disappointment
When the Albiceleste marched all the way to World Cup finals in Brazil four years ago, many touted this is the apotheosis of the golden generation. Germany threw a spanner in the finals as Argentina were handed a rude awakening. Two more agonizing defeats in the Copa finals tagged this Argentina side as mere bottlers, but a poor qualification to Russia suggested far worse than that.
And now in the tournament proper, the abject form has continued. If Argentina were bad in the opening day stalemate against Iceland, they were worse here. Far worse. Messi and Aguero, two of the greatest forwards of the modern era, were reduced to mere training ground skittles while Caballero has been suicidal between the sticks. He was responsible for Iceland’s equalizer that day, and today, signed his death warrant with an embarrassing howler that gifted Croatia the opener.
Two games in, and Argentina have to be the biggest disappointment of the tournament so far. The so-called golden generation have turned into a bunch of laughing stock and now stare at a distinct possibility of going home after the first round itself. Rumors are doing the rounds that the likes of Di Maria, Aguero, Biglia will retire after this World Cup. Don’t be surprised if Messi joins the mass exodus.