Argentina's 0-3 loss to Croatia in their second game of the 2018 FIFA World Cup has been a bitter pill to swallow for many, but none more so than the legend himself, Diego Maradona.
The former footballer, who led Argentina to World Cup glory in 1986, was left utterly disappointed following what transpired during the Group D match on Thursday. Croatia ran roughshod over Lionel Messi's Argentina through goals from Ante Rebic, Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic to leave them on the brink of World Cup exit.
Maradona, who watched from the stands in stunned disbelief, writing a column for Saturday's TOI, said that it was upsetting to see Argentina play the way they did. However, Nigeria's 2-0 win over Iceland on Friday has given the team some hope, and they will now need to win their last group encounter against Nigeria whichever way possible on Tuesday to stay alive.
"Russia 2018 has been a rude awakening for Argentina, who are in deep trouble following the embarrassing defeat against Croatia. Even if they win their last match, they will be at the mercy of others," Maradona said.
"I had said that the first two games, especially the second, would be difficult for this Argentina. European opposition, state of the team, questionable strategy and over-reliance on Messi – there were many reasons. Somewhere in my heart, I was still hoping something would happen. Sitting there and watching the dream crumble was sad. To see the addition of 'no fighting spirit' makes it worse."
The defeat leaves the Argentines facing an ignominious repeat of their 2002 campaign when they also went out at the group stage after being tipped as possible World Cup winners.
"In 2002, we had failed to qualify from the group, but not surrender like we did in Thursday's 0-3 defeat. I know fingers will be pointed at Leo and his inability to inspire the team. He was subdued, not brilliant, as we expect him to be all the time. Missing the penalty proved costly against Iceland. Against Croatia, he could not make an impact. He tried, yet his moment never came. It was disappointing. But football is not a one-man game. It never was, even when I led Argentina to triumph in 1986. One of the reasons why Leo was ineffective was the lack of quality around him," Maradona pointed out.
And throughout it all Lionel Messi, arguably the world's best player, remained a peripheral and largely ponderous figure, briefly flashing to life on too few occasions. And while all the attention after the defeat will definitely focus on Argentina and their star striker, it was also the result of a fine performance by Croatia.
"Giving credit to Croatia, we can ask what our team was doing. Why didn’t we have a settled combination two matches into the World Cup? Why was there no resistance in the midfield? Why did the defence look shaky every time the ball came near the penalty box? What was the goalkeeper thinking when he went for a chip instead of clearing the ball? There are no satisfactory answers," added Maradona.
Source: Times of India