Monday 23 July 2018

What was wrong with Lionel Messi? Pained pre-match pose encapsulates Argentina's night

Lionel Messi struck an unusual pose pre-match CREDIT: AFP
Lionel Messi struck an unusual pose pre-match CREDIT: AFP

Daniel Zeqiri

Deep in thought or suffering from the burden of carrying Argentina's World Cup hopes on his shoulders?

That is what fans asked themselves when the camera panned to Lionel Messi during the national anthems before Argentina's 3-0 defeat to Croatia, which leaves them needing snookers to reach the knockout stages.

Russia 2018 could prove 30-year-old Messi's last chance to win the World Cup, and he cut a pained expression before Thursday's nights dire team performance in which he was peripheral.

Clutching a hand to his forehead, Messi looked as if he was nursing a migraine- or perhaps pent-up exasperation with the disorganised rabble he was asked to rescue. 

It adumbrated a frustrating evening for the Barcelona forward, as Argentina's defensive troubles reared their head throughout and goalkeeper Willy Caballero's howler was responsible for Croatia's opener.

As the game ran away from Argentina and a barrage of frustrated tackles flew in, Messi's shoulders slumped in dejection as he stared at another lost international tournament.

Argentina Jorge Sampaoli had called on his team to not wait for Messi to drag them through the mire, but he was left too isolated and touched the ball only twice in Croatia's penalty area during the second half.

Messi has now had more shots on goal than any other player so far at this World Cup with 12, but has failed to score with any of them.

Argentina have looked unbalanced in both of their group matches, despite an array of attacking talent that includes Gonzalo Higuain, Paulo Dybala and Sergio Aguero besides Messi.

It is worth remembering that Messi is the reason that Argentina, who had three different managers in a troubled qualification campaign, made it to Russia.

He scored a hat-trick in a 3-1 away victory to Ecuador that ensured the two-time World Champions made it to this summer's finals.

Speaking to BBC Sport, outstanding Croatia midfielder Luka Modric said: "I don't want to talk about other players. We are happy with our own performance. We wanted to cut out Messi receiving the ball because he is the most dangerous player.

"Our collective effort in the second half was pleasing as we enjoyed more possession than in the first half. After Cabellero's mistake, our feathers were up and we scored two more goals. We were deserved winners."

Online Editors

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