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.
19 de noviembre 2018
|McGuire signs four-year deal with Cowboys|
|Bears beat Vikings to extend NFC North lead|
|Peng overcomes Davis in Houston final|
|Kerr says this has been his toughest stretch as Warriors coach|
|LeBron scores 51 in Lakers´ win, Warriors fall to Spurs|
|Win more than Djokovic? Let´s chill out – Zverev|
|Steelers´ rally highlights wild day of close, last-minute finishes|
|Modric not worried about Ballon d´Or|
|Saints pull away for blowout victory over Eagles, extend winning streak to nine|
|Martinez laments loss of control by Belgium|
|Logano claims first NASCAR Cup championship|
|Luis Enrique delighted with attitude of Spain´s squad|
|Stevens tells Celtics to get ´tougher´|
|Griezmann: Being Messi´s lieutenant played a part in rejecting Barcelona|
|Curry proud of how Warriors handled Green-Durant incident|
|Courtois: Belgium thought Nations League job was done|
18 de noviembre 2018
|Howell ends 11-year title drought to deny record-breaking Rodgers|
|Robben dismisses Bayern title talk|
|Huge blow for Redskins as QB Smith breaks tibia and fibula|
|Switzerland 5 Belgium 2: Seferovic treble crowns incredible comeback|
|Titans DC Pees taken to hospital during Colts game|
|Spain 1 Bosnia-Herzegovina 0: Debutant Mendez spares Morata´s blushes|
|Peterson goes sixth on rushing touchdowns list|
|Titans QB Mariota suffers elbow injury|
|Djokovic hails much-improved Zverev|
|Arnautovic refuses to discuss West Ham future after Austria win|
|Redskins QB Smith carted off after gruesome ankle injury|
|Jaguars shut down Jalen Ramsey trade rumours|
|Classy Zverev revels in victory, hails defeated Djokovic|
|Forget the Nations League was ever invented, jokes Northern Ireland boss O´Neill|
|Magnificent Zverev claims ATP Finals title|
|Mahrez double fires Algeria to 2019 AFCON|
|Mbappe hoping for French winner of Ballon d´Or|
|Northern Ireland 1 Austria 2: Last-gasp winner denies hosts maiden Nations League point|
|Teenager admits assaulting Wales great Thomas|
|Browns deny Condoleezza Rice is candidate for head coaching job|
|Koeman: Netherlands not favourites for Germany clash|
|Dalic ´not sad´ but blames fatigue for Croatia relegation|
|Proud Southgate hails England hero Kane as world´s best goalscorer|
|Last-gasp Exeter penalty try shatters Bristol|
|Mbappe dismisses talk of Cavani-Neymar rift|
|Keita will do ´great things´ for Liverpool – Mane|
|Mourinho needs time to fix Manchester United - Veron|
|Southgate sees progress as England reward loyal support|
|Miller hungry to ´knock out a Brit´ after Dinu demolition|
|Yasir, Hasan put Pakistan in control with five-wicket hauls|
|England´s resilience delights Kane as Three Lions secure Nations League Finals spot|
|Kane proves Nations League importance to England in Wembley decider|
|Muller, Hummels still important for Germany, says Low|
|Tevez in line for start in Copa Libertadores final second leg|
|England 2 Croatia 1: Kane able to secure Nations League Finals spot|
|It doesn´t sound real - Molinari stunned by 2018 exploits|
|Wales legend Thomas victim of alleged homophobic attack|
|Marquez crashes again as Dovizioso wins rain-interrupted Valencia GP|
|Warriors owner denies taking sides following Green-Durant spat|
|Alisson can become a global great, says Dida|
|The Sunday Seven - 7 Key Opta facts for NFL Week 11|
|Teen driver ´fine´ after sustaining spinal fracture in F3 crash|
|Willett wins first title since Masters triumph, Molinari tops Race to Dubai standings|
|Southgate overcomes ´stigma´ of being sacked to thrive with England|
|Anthony to Lakers ´not a question for myself´, says LeBron James|
|Warriors´ Stephen Curry staying ´cautious´ with injury recovery|
|Gunter hopes Bale can help family jet in to witness Wales record|
|Root pleased to practice what he preached|
|Tianjin Quanjian threaten action after Modeste returns to Cologne|
|I had to stop Kemba getting 70! – Jimmy Butler reflects on dramatic game-winner|
|Molinari wins Race to Dubai|
|Rooney: Some ex-players can´t come to terms with England doing well|
|In a spin: England´s win against Sri Lanka sets new record|
|Ogier wins sixth straight WRC title|