ARGENTINA VERSUS CROATIA: Crushing hearts of millions of supporters around the world Argentina unbelievably crumbled against Croatia by 3-0 on Thursday. The humiliating defeat left fans in the stadium and those before their television sets simply paralytic. People switched off their TV sets and spectators returned to their abodes or their hotels in complete silence. The mood was literally funeral.
After a goalless first half, catastrophe befell Willy Caballero in the Argentina goal eight minutes into the second half, when his attempted clearance following a back-pass went straight to Ante Rebic who gleefully lobbed keeper. The first goal however was not that outstanding. But, the second goal was sensational. Modric picked up possession 25 yards out. He dropped a shoulder to confuse Otamendi, then shifted the ball a little to the right, and amazingly curled an unstoppable shot into the goal! Messi was found dropping his head sadly. The third goal was a reflexive part of the emotional tsunami.
Argentina, already depressed by economic woes, mourned the unbelievable event. Their World Cup hopes are now on a knife's edge. Their chances of just qualifying for knockout rounds, forget about winning the trophy, is perilously hanging by a thread. What a twist of fortune!
Argentina supporters are now praying to beat Nigeria in their final game only to avoid enormous embarrassment before the world of football.
God perhaps listened to their prayer last Friday when Iceland was beaten by Nigeria 2-0 in Group D, lifting Argentina's hopes of surviving at the World Cup. This is not how Argentina was supposed to fare.
What went wrong with the world's best player, Lionel Messi, a group of stupendous forwards? We need reams of pages to answer these questions. The only understandable answer is: There was an emotional failure. There could be another reason: all Argentine players, fans, coaches, and managers were totally dependent on Messi, the greatest player on the planet.
Croatia, on the other hand, were intelligent strategists. They deployed Marcelo Brozovic to guard Messi in Nizhny Novgorod. Brozovic did his job so efficiently that Messi did not have a shot until the 64th minute, and made only 15 good passes.
Croatia deserve salutations. Modric, the captain, was such a wonderful player to watch! With Modric and Rakitic in such good forms, and assisted by the likes of Perisic, Mandzukic, Kramaric and Rebic, they could go very deep in the competition.
Croatia were as magnificent that night as Argentina were abject.
NIGERIA VERSUS ICELAND: On June 22 Nigeria in Group D at the Volgograd Arena beat Iceland by 2 - 0 lifting Argentina's hopes of surviving at the World Cup.
Nigeria were patient with their game of passing. Iceland had the better of the first half, getting six shots to Nigeria's zero.
After a goalless first half, Ahmed Musa of Nigeria scored a fine goal in the 49th minute. With a quarter of an hour to go Musa doubled the advantage, controlling a long ball from the back without breaking stride and galloping towards goal, beating Kári Árnasonin the process.
What a terrific goal that was from Musa! Musa warmed the cockles of his fans' hearts. It was a hilarious moment to watch Musa controlling the ball with a wonderful first touch and then slamming it to goal? It was a magic against Iceland.
BRAZIL VERSUS COSTA RICA: They got their first taste of win in the World Cup. Brazil made their fans smile after many of Argentina fans cried on the previous night. One day after Croatia slammed sterling players like Messi, sending Argentina to the brink of elimination, Neymar's Brazil ended the day with a 2-0 victory over Costa Rica.
The first half was unexciting. Brazil rather looked destined like Argentina.
One funny Brazilian player who vexed us most was Willian. A stupid guy who botched passes to his feet, gave away balls and sent shots far high and wide of the crossbar. At times, he looked like, as if, a spectator on the bench! He would perhaps have appreciated a folding chair and a drink so that he could comfortably witness the game from inside the field. He was, however, rightly subbed at half time.
In the second half, Brazil came out with a new resolve. But the chances Brazil got did not turn into goals. As the minutes ticked away toward the end of the game, Costa Rica rather held firm, frustrating the surging Brazilians.
Minutes before the final whistle, it was Philippe Coutinho, not Neymar, who put Brazil 1-0 up against Costa Rica in added time. Neymar looked helplessly unfortunate. He even had a penalty revoked during the second half after the referee looked at a video replay and realised Neymar had flopped in the area to win it. In the final minute, when we were pitying Brazil's $300 million star for his ill luck, Neymar, the hero, got his revenge, turning home a pass from the substitute Douglas Costa behind a helpless Navas! At last Neymar charmed all of us!
DENMARK VERSUS AUSTRALIA: Denmark's draw 1-1 with Australia on Thursday kept the country on course to qualify and left Australia far short of that. Danish players opened the scoring seven minutes in when Nicolai Jorgensen received the ball in the box and made a beautiful finesse chip to a charging Christian Eriksen. Australia equalised in the 38th through a penalty. Both sides had some decent chances.
FRANCE VERSUS PERU: France eliminated Peru by 1-0 on June 21. It was tragic for Peruvians though. Peru had to wait thirty-six years only to be eliminated from the World Cup without scoring a goal. It was sad for tens of thousands of Peruvian who had to wear colourful dresses, display balloons, play flutes and beat drums to cheer up their team players.
SWITZERLAND VERSUS SERBIA: If there is one single game that must have etched deep into the minds of football gurus, it was the last match in the late Friday night between Switzerland and Serbia. Switzerland beat Serbia. Shaqiri's 90th-minute goal in a 2-1 victory against Serbia was the final act of a vivacious match.
The victory was tinged with history and the game brought back some poignant memories of war and peace. Three players of Switzerland, including both of its goal scorers on Friday, were born in, or have roots, in Kosovo, an ethnically Albanian province that fought a war of independence against Serb-dominated Yugoslav forces in the late 1990s.
This World Cup has generated seismic results of defeats and victories. For the last few days one question that is bugging us most is why do some great players fail while some dark horses do succeed? The logic that only historical winners would remain greats forever is an antiquated one. It was, of course, valid when Pelé spent his entire career on one side of the Atlantic, and when Maradona played only a handful of European Cup games in their careers.
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