In Group D’s Matchday 2, an Argentinian squad in poor form squared off against a confident Croatian team looking to continue their victorious streak.
The first half of the game was relatively quite for both sides. Even though Croatia was clearly the more organized of the two, the first 45 minutes stayed scoreless with Argentina getting saved by the bell.
So far in this World Cup, there’s been a theme of a scoreless or evenly matched first halves only to have one side explode with goals once the second half starts. And that’s just what Croatia did. The start of Argentina’s descent began in the 54th minute with a careless ball in from Argentinian keeper, Caballero, who passed it directly to Croatia’s Rebic. The left wing player made the most of this mistake and struck the ball hard and true, giving Croatia the lead.
Zlatko Dalic’s men had an insatiable hunger for goals in Matchday 2 and this hunger was only partly satisfied by Luka Modric. In the 80th minute, Modric was able to catch Caballero off guard and take a shot from outside of the penalty area in what ended up being one, if not the best, goals of the 2018 FIFA World Cup so far.
The final nail in the coffin and the goal that truly summed up the entire match was the stoppage time goal by Croatia’s Rakitic where he simply tapped the ball in the back of an empty, keeper-less net. Throughout the match, Croatia showed how efficiently they work as a team and not only grabbed 3 more points in the standings but also scored 3 goals on supposed World Cup Champion contenders, Argentina and their talisman, Lionel Messi.
Things continue to look bleak for “La Albiceleste” as they continue their disappointing form in this shutout match.
In the following match up for Day 2, it was the “Super Eagles” who took flight for their place in the Round of 16 by playing against Iceland, who hold a single point under their belt.
During the earlier moments of the match, the Nordic side had poise and control of the ball while Nigeria were trying their best not to concede any goals. The physicality and aerial play that Iceland was imposing on Nigeria caused confusion for their backline in the first 45 minutes. However, as I said earlier, the 2nd half of a World Cup match can be a completely different game all on its’ own.
Nigeria was able to find the back of the net in the 49th minute of regular time from a play that started with a counter and ended with a goal from Ahmed Musa, lifting the “Super Eagles” up by one goal. Then again, in the 75th minute, Musa doubled his goal count. The man of the match was able to beat the Icelandic defense with class and carefully place the ball in the back of the net.
This victory was exactly what Nigeria needed in order to stay in the run for the upcoming round of 16. At this point, Croatia is the only team that has solidified their place in the next round (1st) while any of the other 3 teams are still able to qualify depending on Matchday 3 results.
Group D Standings:
Croatia: 6 points, +5 goal differential
Nigeria: 3 points, 0 goal differential
Iceland: 1 point, -2 goal differential
Argentina: 1 point, -3 goal differential