World Cup: Messi Weeps as Croatia Defeats Argentina
Lionel Messi’s mother will tell you that her son didn’t cry much as a child and rarely does now, saving his tears for the times of his most intense soccer pain.
Messi didn’t openly weep before he left the field in Nizhny Novgorod on Thursday night, but he surely must have felt like it.
Argentina’s 3-0 defeat to Croatia didn’t just endanger its long-held hopes of winning this World Cup, it threw its immediate survival into grave peril and beyond the control of Messi’s skill and willpower.
If Iceland beats Nigeria in a clash between Group D’s other teams on Friday, Argentina will need a miracle to advance at the World Cup. One of the most extraordinary players of this or any era is close to suffering heartache once more.
We don’t have all day so it’s pointless to name all of Messi’s club (with Barcelona) and individual honors. Yet it takes but a moment to reference the number of international titles he has steered Argentina to. It is none, no Copa Americas, no World Cups, and barring a miracle, no hope in this tournament either.
It has never been for a lack of effort. Messi cares about his country and also his legacy, which will be partially dented by his international record but no more than that. He is one of the greats, shoulder-to-shoulder with Cristiano Ronaldo in this era and in the conversation with anyone, ever.
His struggles with Argentina continue to puzzle. Croatia is seriously good, but Argentina is talent-laden, especially in attack, and had no shortage of chances.
The game-breaking moment of magic though, came not from Messi’s twinkling toes but from Croatia’s fearless Ante Rabic, who capitalized on a mistake to deliver a 53rd minute volley of impeccable sweetness.
And then, after Messi had tried and toiled and given his all in vain to spark a revival, Luka Modric — of Barcelona’s loathed rival Real Madrid no less — sealed the points and Croatia’s status in the round of 16, thanks to a rasping curled effort from the edge of the box with 10 minutes left.
In that moment, naturally, eyes turned not to the scorer but to Messi, for we are drawn to discomfort. His hands were planted on his hips and his head was bowed. The end was near and there was room in his heart for only disbelief, not sadness.
But the final whistle and the misery would soon come, with private tears perhaps to follow.
Ivan Rakitic added a third as time wound down and Argentina — and Messi — are on the brink.