By Keith Ayers
A performance collapse by Argentine captain Lionel Messi triggered a shocking 3-0 loss to Croatia in a 2018 FIFA World Cup game on Thursday, putting Argentina’s tournament victory hopes in jeopardy.
Messi’s underwhelming play, combined with a goalkeeping mishit by Wilfredo Caballero that led to Croatian winger Ante Rebic Croatia’s opening goal, made it a disastrous contest for the Argentine team, which had been one of the favorites leading up to the tournament.
Against Croatia, Messi had only 49 touches, more than one third below his season average. His 32 passes were a full 20 below his season average, and his completion percentage was considerably off as well. Most of all, the legendary Messi made only one shot on goal Thursday, which did not even challenge goalkeeper Danijel Subasic.
If Messi fails to get quickly back into the scoring pace that made him one of the world’s top players, Argentina is heading toward a World Cup disaster. Argentina opened with a 1-1 draw against Iceland before the loss to Croatia.
Argentina now has only one Group D point from a possible six, as does Iceland, which plays Nigeria on Friday. It is behind the table-topping Croatia (six points) and must defeat Nigeria (no points) on Tuesday if it is to have any hope of a World Cup victory.
Keith Ayers is director of communications at the United States Sports Academy