After its disappointing opening draw against Iceland, Argentina needed to come out and play with skill and discipline against Croatia on Thursday to put any early World Cup doubts to rest. It did the exact opposite, however, and Croatia Kolo’d all over its disjointed opponents to win 3–0.
To use traditional fútbol parlance, Argentina is “in deep doo doo.” Its future depends on other group results and its next match, against Nigeria, but there is a very large chance that Argentina—one of the favorites heading into the tournament—won’t even make it to the Round of 16. That would be a nightmare for Lionel Messi, the best player in the world, who has long faced questions about why his form for country doesn’t match his performances for Barcelona.
He’s up against this narrative yet again, and, after two matches in which he hasn’t scored or created a goal, the narrative has taken a sizable lead. Messi will receive plenty of blame if Argentina flames out, but the team’s troubles go far deeper than its captain.
Look no further than Croatia’s first goal, which was the result of a remarkably silly error from 36-year-old backup keeper Will Caballero.
Had the score stayed 1–0, Argentina’s players could have all pointed their fingers at Caballero. The goals kept coming, however, and so they’re going to need to find a new excuse. Here are five that may come in handy should Argentina fail to make it out of the group stage.
1. Nizhny Novgorod Stadium is located at the confluence of the Oka and Volga Rivers. Hydrology may seem like an established science, but there is still so much we don’t know about its effects on soccer matches. This surely came into play during the second half when Croatia scored its three goals, and Luka Modrić’s brilliant solo effort had to have benefited from the mysterious pull of the Volga.
Geography buffs will note that Buenos Aires is located on Río de la Plata, an estuary that represents one of the largest river confluences in the world, and so many of the Argentina players should be familiar with these as-of-yet-undiscovered phantasmic effects. But they should also note that hydrology is very mysterious. To ask questions is to tempt the ire of Poseidon himself.
2. The sun was in their eyes. Sure, Croatia’s first goal occurred around 10:15 p.m. and sunset in Nizhny Novgorod was at 8:57 p.m., but the moon could have been particularly bright—blinding, even. How else can you explain the fact that Argentina’s defense simply stopped playing during Croatia’s third and final goal?
3. Soccer is hard.
4. Lionel Messi retired from international soccer in 2016 after Argentina lost in the Copa America final, but he eventually reversed course and returned in time for the World Cup in Russia. He’s still technically a retiree, and retirees have no business exerting themselves on a soccer field like that, especially hours after bedtime.