If Argentina are going to survive in this World Cup, they need fresh impetus, a new system, and certainly a new goalkeeper.
Willy Caballero was never meant to be their number one in Russia but the injury to Sergio Romero forced coach Jorge Sampaoli to make a choice. He went with the 36-year-old, who only made his international debut in March. After Thursday's 3-0 defeat to Croatia, that decision may have cost his side a place in the last 16.
Caballero has had a fine career but the warning signs have been flashing brightly. He shipped five goals against Spain in that humiliating 6-1 friendly loss in Madrid before these finals, and he seemed to create a constant unease in their surprise opening draw with Iceland.
What happened in Nizhny Novgorod was an error of an altogether different category. With the ball trickling back towards his goal, Ante Rebic giving chase, all the uncertainty about his own form seemed to cloud at once around Caballero's shining bald head. He neither cleared to the sidelines, nor found a team-mate; instead, he chipped the ball up and into the perfect striking distance for Rebic, who volleyed sweetly into the net.
Caballero's face was immediately in his hands. Sampaoli mirrored the gesture on the bench, as did approximately 10,500 Argentina fans who had made the stadium a cauldron of noise until then.
Argentina's malaise cannot be blamed entirely on the goalkeeper, of course. They were better than they were against Iceland here for the first hour, but drastically short of good enough. Possession and high pressing is only useful if it leads to chances, and the only one of note fell to Enzo Perez in the first half, who fluffed his lines horribly.
21:11 - Sergio Aguero didn't touch the ball at all in the final 21 minutes & 11 seconds of the first half for Argentina vs Croatia (incl. injury time). Lonely. #ARGCRO #ARG #CRO #WorldCup pic.twitter.com/S2O10dbom4— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) June 21, 2018
Sampaoli has continually tinkered with his system and line-up in a bid to bring the best out of Lionel Messi. This time, he switched to 3-4-3, adding flying wing-backs to aid the Barcelona star and Maximiliano Meza in the wide positions, who in turn supported Sergio Aguero. The fact the Manchester City man spent 21 minutes and 11 seconds of the first half without touching the ball says enough about how successful the plan was.
In the aquatic-themed Nizhny Novgorod Stadium, this had felt like a watershed moment for Sampaoli's Argentina. The deafening support of the travelling fans was commendable, especially after the Iceland disappointment. The ground itself is even blue and white, both outside and in terms of seat colour.
It was a home away from home, wrecked by a goalkeeping calamity, an uncertain system and a stunning strike from Luka Modric. Caballero could not even redeem himself in injury time, his low save to deny Ivan Rakitic sending the ball straight to Mateo Kovacic, who teed up the Barcelona man for a tap-in. Messi watched on from the halfway line, scarcely reacting at all.
Argentina's World Cup is not over yet. A win for Nigeria over Iceland, or even a draw, in Friday's Group D match would help their cause. But forgetting this Nizhny nightmare will take some doing.
16 de julio 2018
|BREAKING NEWS: Manchester United and Ajax agree Daley Blind transfer|
|Familiarity with demands of Real Madrid an advantage – Lopetegui|
|Parmentier rallies to avoid Bucharest exit, Arruabarrena bows out in Gstaad|
|Steelers fail to sign Bell to long-term deal|
|Over 10 per cent of Croatia´s population welcomes World Cup heroes home|
|Thierry Henry quits pundit role to focus on coaching|
|France´s World Cup winners given heroes´ welcome in Paris|
|At the end we will see who is best - Ronaldo sidesteps Messi rivalry|
|Qatar? China? Ronaldo only has eyes for glory at Juventus|
|Proud Kane praises team-mates after Golden Boot win|
|The Open 2018 diary: Is that Tiger Woods? Harrington feels the Burn...|
|Porte targeting Vuelta after Tour de France anguish|
|Maradona madness, #WaistcoatWednesday, bruised Batshuayi - Alternative World Cup awards|
|It could be the best time - Martinez hints at Hazard Chelsea exit|
|England call up Billings as cover for injury doubt Roy|
|McIlroy on track for fitting major haul - Harrington|
|Froome plays down Thomas battle for Sky supremacy|
|Carnoustie record counts for little at The Open, says Fleetwood|
|I don´t see it - Napoli chief De Laurentiis plays down talk of Callejon-Suso swap|
|One or two changes required at Chelsea, says Sarri|
|Monaco confirm Golovin approach|
|Let´s keep making noise! - Serena dedicates Wimbledon run to fellow mothers|
|Full list of Open tee times|
|Fakhar inspires another big Pakistan ODI win|
|Spieth ´annoyed´ by re-watch of 13th hole|
|Kaka claims Ronaldo arrival will boost all Italian clubs|
|Spieth vows to be more artist than tactician in Open defence|
|Conte thanks Chelsea players, staff and fans|
|Rodgers: I´d love to play with the Packers to 40|
|Sevilla insist N´Zonzi will cost €40m|
|Hugill shows mystic powers with accurate World Cup predictions|
|World Cup 2018: FARE ready for post-tournament challenges in Russia|
|Woods grouped with Matsuyama and Knox at Open|
|Matthaus questions idea of French dynasty|
|Chandimal, Sri Lanka coach and manager banned for two Tests and four ODIs|
|Sassuolo demand at least €30m for Berardi|
|French media revels in ´crazy´ triumph|
|Mafi released on bail after alleged assault|
|Bierhoff must go! Berthold calls for Germany changes|
|Joshua to fight Povetkin in September|
|World Cup 2018: Goal-laden final adds to staggering World Cup stats|
|Runners and Ryders: Molinari impresses again as stars prepare for The Open|
|Macron to greet France team after Champs Elysees parade|
|Casillas and Suarez critical of VAR after World Cup final|
|TMO protocol clearly not working, says SANZAAR|
|Americans seek joy of six at Carnoustie, Rose out to end wretched run - The Open in Opta facts|
|Ronaldo arrives in Turin for Juventus medical|
|Stone: I had no idea what my score was!|
|The Open: A look back at Van de Velde´s Carnoustie calamity|
|Rakitic proud of ´brother´ Modric´s Golden Ball award|
|Serena can surpass Court, but Graf was the real target - Krajicek|
|Ronaldo moved to remain motivated - Kaka|
|Silva confident on Everton transfer targets|
|Golden Boot winner Kane aims to break August hoodoo|
|NFL training camp 2018: Contract holdouts and where they stand|
|Guardiola took me to another level - Alaba|
|Madrid selling Ronaldo a ´historic error´ - Calderon|
|MLS Review: LAFC, Atlanta held at home|
|Stones will watch re-runs of England´s World Cup matches|
|Ferdinand challenges Mourinho to unleash Pogba at United|
|Mbappe: I´m staying at PSG|
|Former NHL goalie Ray Emery found dead|
|Pirates secure five-game sweep of Brewers with walk-off win|
|WATCH: LeBron receives standing ovation at Lakers´ summer league game|
|Tony Romo wins celebrity-filled American Century Championship|
|McGregor praises Putin after attending World Cup final|
|Open-bound Kim claims maiden title with eight-shot triumph|
|Eagles running back Sproles plans to retire after next season|
|World Cup winner Rami retires from international football|
15 de julio 2018
|Wimbledon champion Djokovic did not expect grand slam glory so soon|