Don’t cry for me, Argentina should be the theme song of the 2018 World Cup after their biggest loss in a first round league match since 1958. Argentina’s and Lionel Messi’s hopes of qualifying for the round of 16 now hinge on the match between Iceland and Nigeria.
If Iceland win, they will be on four points and a draw in the last match on 26 June against already qualified Croatia could help them progress ahead of Argentina. If it happens it will be the first time since 2002 that Argentina have got eliminated in the group stage.
Coach Jorge Sampaoli’s experiment of playing several young players misfired. Wing backs Eduardo Salvio and Marcos Acuna did not retreat quickly and left gaps on the flanks which Modric and Perisic exploited. Midfielder Enzo Perez was overawed and missed a sitter. Javier Mascherano is now slow and his passing was awry. Goalkeeper Willy Caballero’ s howler gifted Croatia the first goal. Even the Messi magic did not work and Argentina need to revamp their team and approach play.
This World Cup has shown that neither wealth nor size of population matters in producing quality football teams. Senegal maybe the poorest country in the 2018 World Cup with a per capita income of just $1.038 but the quality of their football is far superior to countries like Saudi Arabia with a per capita income $21,120. Senegal have been the most impressive of all the teams, from Africa and Asia.
Senegal coached by Aliou Cisse, who was in the team when they first played in the World Cup in 2002, showed exemplary team-spirit. Skipper Sadio Mane was impressive. He led from the front. When he plays for Liverpool, Mane is a thrustful winger but for Senegal he is a roving forward, providing passes, linking up defence and attack and guiding his younger players to a historic win over Poland.
Kalidou Kaliboulay as central defender, Youssoyf Soubally as left back and hard tackling midfielder Idrissa Gueye impressed. Similarly the other debutants Panama with a population of just 41 lakhs and a squad with the oldest average age in the competition tackled impressively and prevented Belgian superstars like Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku and Kevin de Bruyne from having any impact in the first half which ended goalless.
It was only a superlative angled volley by Dries Mertens which enabled Belgium to score early in the second half and after that Hazard provided the passes that enabled striker Lukaku to score a brace. African nations have not done well except for Senegal. Morocco, despite playing well, lacked finish and Egypt are already eliminated. Nigeria lost 0-2 to Croatia. Tunisia impressed with a clever passing game but lost to England and may struggle to qualify.
Among Asia nations Japan have the best chance to qualify. Saudi Arabia is already eliminated and South Korea will also struggle. Iran is unlikely to beat Portugal. Australia is also only on one point.