Argentina's FIFA World Cup™ dream hangs by a thread after Jorge Sampaoli's side were put to the sword by Croatia early this morning, losing 3-0 at the Nizhny Novgorod Stadium.
The two-time tournament winners originally secured their ticket to Russia in unconvincing style and now appear to set for an embarrassing exit after suffering what was their worst group stage defeat in 50 years.
Lionel Messi had dragged the South Americans through the formal qualification process, contributing 7 of Argentina's 19 goals - the lowest of the four qualified CONMEBOL nations.
But with the Barcelona man firmly on the perimeter against Croatia, Sampaoli's side could barely offer a whimper.
A horror error from goalkeeper William Caballero handed Croatia the lead shortly after half time.
Then, Luka Modric double the lead with a goal of the tournament contender from long range.
Ivan Rakitic slotted away a third in injury time as Croatia advanced to the round of 16 for the first time since 1998.
It means the two-time champions will be eliminated if Iceland defeat Nigeria tomorrow morning - a result that would also end the tournament for the Super Eagles.
"We were not able to find combinations that would have given us a chance," Sampaoli said after the match.
"The plan for this game, I thought [we] would exercise pressure over our rival over Croatia but after the first goal we suffered emotionally and we weren't able to change the story.
"Everything that happened to this team in terms of the lack of performance of this team has to do with the leader. And I take responsibility for that if the players were not able to adapt to the gameplan.
"I take responsibility for not reading the match properly. Our plan didn't prosper."
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Argentina can still qualify from Group D, but several things would need to fall into place.
1. Firstly, Iceland must draw or lose to Nigeria in their match tomorrow.
2. Croatia then must beat or draw against Iceland next Wednesday morning.
3. Argentina would then need to beat Nigeria.
4. If Iceland beats Nigeria tomorrow, there is still a chance that Argentina qualify - but that would rely on them beating Nigeria and Iceland losing to Croatia, as both teams would be on four points - forcing a tiebreaker. It would then come down to goal difference for Argentina, and with the side currently on -3, a big win would be required.
FIFA World Cup™ group stage tiebreak rules
- Greatest number of points obtained in the group matches between the teams concerned
- Goal difference resulting from the group matches between the teams concerned
- Greater number of goals scored in all group matches between the teams concerned
- Greater number of points obtained regarding fair play conduct (yellow cards = 1, indirect red card (as a result of a second yellow card) = -3, direct red card = -4, yellow card and direct red = -5, with only one of the deductions applied to a player in a single game)
- Drawing of lots by FIFA