Argentina player ratings v Croatia – few positives as Caballero’s horror show takes the headlines

A dark night for Argentinian football has left La Albiceleste’s chances of progressing in Russia hanging by a thread and given how Jorge Sampaoli’s side have been playing, they will not be missed. Another woeful display culminating in an embarrassing capitulation saw Croatia seal a 3-0 win and amid all the doom and gloom it is difficult to see where Argentina go from here.

Willy Caballero – 2 

A good stop to deny Ivan Perisic early on was completely overshadowed by what followed and it wasn’t as if the warning signs hadn’t been there. Sampaoli may have opted for Caballero for his perceived decent ability with the ball at his feet but his few performances for Argentina had already seen a number of wayward passes and there was an earlier heart-stopping moment against Croatia even before the decisive blunder. The scuffed clearance gifted Ante Rebic the opening goal and Argentina fell apart from there.

Gabriel Mercado – 5

With Eduardo Salvio ahead of him, it always looked like it could be a difficult evening for Gabriel Mercado and so it proved as Croatia constantly looked to probe those spaces either side of Sampaoli’s back-three. A first half yellow card halted a counter and while the Sevilla defender gave everything, it was a night to forget.

Nicolás Otamendi – 4

So often the one Argentina defender to come out with any credit, Nicolás Otamendi produced one of his poorest performances and could have seen red when losing his temper close to the end. The switch to a back-three will not have helped but after battling with Mario Mandzukic all evening, Otamendi was left for dead by Luka Modric and the midfielder maestro thumped in Croatia’s second.

Nicolás Tagliafico – 6

A good first half performance, Nicolás Tagliafico was one of the top performers in an Argentina shirt and while the former Independiente captain got caught out of position during a ragged second half, all of his battling qualities were on display throughout. Ahead of the inevitable fall-out, Tagliafico one of the few still with a future in the Argentina team.

Eduardo Salvio – 5

A bright opening half saw Lionel Messi release Eduardo Salvio down the right and his low cross forced the Croatian defence into a last ditch block to deny Maxi Meza. However, the Benfica winger’s influence seemed to dwindle as the game went on and in the 3-4-3 system his presence left a hole for Croatia to exploit and attack Gabriel Mercado.

Enzo Pérez – 5

Despite not being in Jorge Sampaoli’s initial 23-man squad, Enzo Pérez came in to partner Javier Mascherano and on the whole tried to do what was asked of him. Keep possession, combat the Croatian midfield and drive forward to add to the attack – for the opening 45 minutes it sort of worked. However, a glaring miss with the goal open was what most will remember and it proved costly for Argentina.

 

Javier Mascherano – 4

Maximum effort as ever from Javier Mascherano but up against a midfield led by Luka Modric, El Jefecito looked more and more like a relic in the modern game. There were some good challenges here and there but Mascherano struggled with the pace of the Croatian counters and it is a sorry end to a wonderful career for La Albiceleste.

Marcos Acuña – 6

Another of the Argentina eleven whose effort at least couldn’t be faulted, Marcos Acuña worked tirelessly down the left, carrying out his defensive duties and getting forward to try and add Sampaoli’s desired width. A first half cross clipped off the top of the crossbar but as Argentina lost their way after falling behind, El Huevo got a little lost with Cristian Pavón occupying many of the same positions.

Lionel Messi – 4

Croatia knew that if Lionel Messi didn’t get on the ball Argentina would struggle to hurt them and they were right. The world’s best player was on the periphery of the game and simply doesn’t have the team or system around him to either combat that or step up in his absence and guide Argentina through.

Maxi Meza – 5

Only an excellent Dejan Lovren block denied Maxi Meza what would have been an invaluable opening goal but the Independiente playmaker tried at least to get up and support Sergio Agüero. An easy target for many given his lowly status compared to many of the ‘A-listers’ who have fluffed their lines previously but the 26-year-old kept going and actually came closest to finding the net.

Sergio Agüero – 5

A deeply frustrating evening for Sergio Agüero, who for large parts was left isolated and unable to make any kind of meaningful contribution. The Manchester City striker did press well from the front and at least occupied the Croatian defence and it made his straight substitution for Gonzalo Higuaín when Argentina fell behind all the more puzzling.

Substitutes

Gonzalo Higuaín – 4

One good run in behind and a cut-back almost led to a goal but otherwise Gonzalo Higuaín added nothing to the Argentina attack.

Paulo Dybala – 5

The desire to work was there but the application was clearly still lacking. Stuck out on the right, Paulo Dybala tried to work things inside onto his left boot but invariably struggled and while every Argentina supporter wants to see the Dybala-Messi attack work, it clearly requires more time.

Cristian Pavón – 5

There was to be no impressive cameo for Cristian Pavón this time as Argentina found no way to utilise his pace. Marcos Acuña was already patrolling the left wing and so the Boca winger looked at times a little uncertain of what to do.

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