Croatia took on Argentina on Thursday, in the second 2018 FIFA World Cup game for both teams. It was a match the South American giants needed to win, in order to have a decent chance of advancing to the knockout stage of the tournament, and avoiding a complete national soccer disaster.
Meanwhile, the Vatreni knew they could go into the encounter calmly, after having won their opening group fixture against Nigeria. They also knew that the consequences of defeat would be minimal and the reward for success great.
From the time the teams walked onto the field, the pressure on the face of Argentina’s talismanic leader Lionel Messi was quite visible.
It was clear that the Barcelona star is tired of carrying his national team on his back, as he had throughout qualifying, despite the fact that they have no shortage of other world class players, who could be capable leaders.
The teams traded chances in the first half without scoring. Argentina seemed the slightly more active side, while Croatia looked the better organized of the two.
Early on in the second half, Argentina’s keeper Willy Caballero made a mistake with his ball distribution, which enabled Ante Rebić to give his team the lead with a beautiful volley. 1-0!
After that, the South Americans pushed forward more, without really threatening the Croatian goal too often. The team from the former Yugoslav country did more than just absorb pressure, they created chances themselves. Toward the end, Luka Modrić took one, making it 2-0 from long distance.
That finished the game as a contest, but in added time, Ivan Rakitić walked the ball into the net to secure the 3-0 final score.
The victory is a historic one for Croatia, perhaps even the biggest one since finishing third at the 1998 World Cup.
They have now reached the Round of 16 with a game to spare.