TV View: Argentina’s hopes go down the plughole

Duffer won’t be letting his heart rule his head again after Argentina's horror show

Croatia’s defender Domagoj Vida challenges Argentina’s Lionel Messi in Nizhny Novgorod. Photograph: Getty Images

Croatia’s defender Domagoj Vida challenges Argentina’s Lionel Messi in Nizhny Novgorod. Photograph: Getty Images

 

Day Eight and Martin O’Neill was on ITV berating Australia for allowing Christian Eriksen the freedom to roam and arrive in the box unmarked before inserting the ball in the back of the net. That choking sound in the background was irony struggling to breathe.

That was Christian’s 13th goal in his last 15 internationals, 23.08 per cent of them coming in Dublin on that dark November night. And lest we’d managed to erase them from our memory, Jacqui Oatley only went and replayed them all before the game, which was a lovely start to Martin’s Thursday.

But, no matter how bad your Thursday might have been, at least you’re not Willy Caballero. Or Jeeeeeesus Caballero as he would have been renamed by the billion or three who saw his moment against Croatia, one that left Diego Maradona eating his fingers - literally, like - in the stands.

“At last we have something positive to say about this match,” said Ger Canning, “even if it was as a result of an appalling error.” The mother of all negative addendums, that.

Then, Luka Modric, 2-0. Gold in them there feet.

Peeved

Earlier in the day O’Neill was decidedly peeved by the VAR-assisted award of a penalty to Australia - “What’s Poulsen gonna do with his arm, get it cut off?!” - which prompted roughly our 965th VAR debate of the tournament. Along with the ones about Paul Pogba’s hair and the Messi v Ronaldo business, they provide the perfect opportunity to stretch the legs and go out for a blast of air.

After last night, though, it’ll probably now be Modric v Ronaldo.

By the time it was 3-0 to Croatia, Brian Kerr echoed the thoughts of the entire nation of Argentina: “It’s a shambles.” Messi just stared at the ground, like he wanted it to swallow him up.

Annoying as the Messi v Ronaldo business is, like it can be a scientifically proved thing who is the better player, those with the good sense to admire Ronaldo but love Messi would have spent the night reassembling their hearts.

Argentina’s forward Lionel Messi reacts after Croatia scored their third goal. Photograph: Getty Images
Argentina’s forward Lionel Messi reacts after Croatia scored their third goal. Photograph: Getty Images

Like Damien Duff.

“I’ll learnt never to let the heart rule the head again,” he said after the game, having tipped his beloved Lionel to lead Argentina to World Cup glory. “If you were making an eleven out of the Argentina and Croatia teams, at least nine of them would be Croatian.”

Over on the BBC, Pablo Zabaleta kind of echoed the point. The poor lad was making his punditry debut and had turned a whiter shade of pale come full-time. You sensed he wouldn’t be skipping the light fandango once he left the studio, instead curling up in a ball and weeping. Even before the game he warned us the weight of expectation on the little fella was, well, bonkers. “People in Argentina expect Messi to do too much. They expect him to do everything. Even when I played, sometimes you’d just pass the ball to him and expect something.”

X-rated

And Argentina expected big time for this one, the headlines, Darragh Maloney predicted, will be x-rated stuff.

France v Peru earlier in the day hadn’t been the prettiest of affairs either, Lee Dixon deciding that Paul Pogba was entirely to blame for the tussle’s lack of loveliness, noting that he “literally” disappears from games on occasion, which is an act of pure magic.

Come the break Roy was aiming his fire at the Peruvian half-time habit. “I’m not sure about these huddles,” he winced, and you wondered how he ever survived his brief stay at Celtic when hooped Bhoys were throwing their arms around his shoulder and whispering fighting talk in his ear.

It was Peru’s lack of fight that left him incandescent-ish at full-time. “I don’t think they even realised they were losing, they never went for it!”

But as Eamon Dunphy said of Saudi Arabia the night before: “Why they didn’t throw the kitchen sink at Uruguay? They don’t have a kitchen sink - only a dishcloth.”

And that’s all Argentina had too in the end, 10 dishcloths and a kitchen sink, not to mention a manager who thought it wise to remove Sergio Aguero from the field of play when they needed a goal. As the youngsters say, WTF?

The kitchen sink, who was, in the end, unable to fling himself at Croatia, will, you’d imagine, be relieved to return to the sanctuary that is Barca and their abundance of kitchen sinks. Unless he can pull off a miracle against Nigeria while the Croatia v Iceland result goes his way. At which point we can resume the Messi v Ronaldo debate. And there’ll be s smile on the Duffer’s face again.

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