World Cup Diary – Day 8: Croatia shock Argentina

World Cup Diary – Day 8: Croatia shock Argentina

Manuel Veth –

I am on a train again. Today’s schedule sees me go from Moscow to St. Petersburg where I will catch Brazil against Costa Rica. But before we chat about today’s match we will have to discuss Argentina, or instead of their opponent Croatia, who shocked, or not shocked, the world by dismantling La albiceleste. 

Argentina lack compactness

Much of the focus was on Argentina’s poor performance and Lionel Messi’s inability to carry a team that lacks a world class keeper and world-class defence. On top of that Argentina placed perhaps false hope in believing that Jorge Sampaoli, who was hired based on his work done with Chile, could fix the tactical short-comings of this side.

Instead, however, Sampaoli’s tactic was that of his predecessors. Argentina’s tactic, in short, is to give the ball to Messi and hope for the best. Of course, it is a bit more nuanced than that. At this tournament, for example, the likes of Kun Agüero were also involved more.

Las albiceleste lack squad cohesion and compactness to cover their short-comings in defence. This World Cup has seen countless examples of teams that lack talent but are tactically set up in a way to cover the open space to a maximum effect making it hard for bigger more talented teams to break them down. Sampaoli’s team instead tried to go through the centre too leaving acres of space behind their defensive line and on the flanks, which is where they got punished.

Add to this a second-string goalkeeper and an indisposed Messi, who seems tired of having to carry this team, and the disaster is complete.

Croatia were world class

On a personal level, I have been drumming the Croatia drum for quite some time, both on the Futbolgrad Podcast and also in our previews. In truth, Croatia have one of the deepest squads at the World Cup. Perhaps the only weakness is goalkeeping, but even there they got a keeper who regularly plays for a club competing in European competitions in the likes of Danijel Subašić (Monaco).

In defence, Croatia can rely on several experienced players, who for the most part play at European clubs that compete in the Champions League or Europa League. But the true heart of this team is midfield. Here Luka Modrić, from Real Madrid, stands out as perhaps the most underrated world class player on this planet.

Modrić’s goal to make it 2-0 showed both the elegance of his play but also the power that he can develop when going forward. That shot of precision and strength might as well encompass him as a playmaker -because a playmaker is what he has become under head coach Zlatko Dalić.

With an array of talented midfielders at his possession, Dalić has moved Modrić up to the number 10 position freeing him up from defensive work. Now with the likes of Ivan Rakitić and Milan Badelj carrying the load of defending Modrić has the freedom to create, which has aided Croatia tactical development. Throw in a couple of strikers with elbows of steel and an instinct of scoring whenever possible in the likes of Ante Rebić, Andrej Kramarić and most importantly Mario Mandžukić, and you got yourself a potential World Cup contender.

Can Croatia go all the way?

That remains to be seen. There is no doubt that they are a very talented side. The question ahead of this tournament has been coaching.

Travelling to Croatia a couple of weeks back the most common concern I heard from people was whether Dalić had the tactical ability to put together a team and whether he would be able to put the stars into a cohesive unit that could work together. Tactically he has answered that question with a yes. But what about the divas?

Croatia's Luka Modrić was excellent against Argentina (Photo by Johannes EISELE / AFP)

Croatia’s Luka Modrić was excellent against Argentina (Photo by Johannes EISELE / AFP)

Nikola Kalinić refused to be brought on against Nigeria. It was a moment that could have threatened the entire squad cohesion. Dalić, however, acted fast sending the Milan striker packing. Removing Kalinić could have backfired, but the result against Argentina suggests that Dalić acted the right way by removing a potential source of conflict from the side.

Croatia have now firmly established themselves among the World Cup favourites after the first two matchdays. That said it is still a long way until the final in Moscow on July 15. Croatia have the talent but do they have the stamina. We will see.

France beat Peru, and Australia hold Denmark

The other results included France beating Peru 1-0 and Denmark and Australia battling to a 1-1 draw. France are now as good as qualified from the group stage without convincing spectators and journalists.

France head coach Didier Deschamps, in fact, has been criticised for not getting the most out of a squad that might be the most exciting at this tournament. On the other hand, France get the job done, and it is important to note that the tournament is more like a marathon rather than a sprint. Hence, slowly building momentum will be key for France to get the job done.

Australia, in the meantime, have shown for the second time in a row that they can play. Holding Denmark to a draw, the Socceroos play an organised brand of football and perhaps simply lack a top international striker to get the job done in front of the goal.

Travel plans

I am in St. Petersburg today and will then head to Sochi to see Germany take on Sweden. After that things are up in the air. Options include seeing Russia play against Uruguay in Samara or France against Denmark at the Luzhniki. Either way, the coming days will be exciting, and I will keep you up to date from the World Cup in Russia.

Until then privet from St. Petersburg.

Manuel Veth is the owner and Editor in Chief of the Futbolgrad Network. He also works as a freelance journalist and among others works for the Bundesliga and Pro Soccer USA. He holds a Doctorate of Philosophy in History from King’s College London, and his thesis is titled: “Selling the People’s Game: Football’s transition from Communism to Capitalism in the Soviet Union and its Successor States,” which is available HERE. Originally from Munich, Manuel has lived in Amsterdam, Kyiv, Moscow, Tbilisi, London, and currently is located in Victoria BC, Canada.  Follow Manuel on Twitter @ManuelVeth.