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Russia 2018 World Cup: A tournament full of surprises

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Argentina’s forward Lionel Messi reacts after Croatia scored their third goal during the Russia 2018 World Cup Group D football match between Argentina and Croatia at the Nizhny Novgorod Stadium in Nizhny Novgorod on June 21, 2018. Johannes EISELE / AFP

Like the usual habit of many Nigerian football fans, a majority of Argentine supporters have resorted to arithmetical calculation after Croatia shocked the former World champion 3-0 in their second group D match on Thursday.

The impact of the loss was so much that former Argentina captain and 1986 World Cup winner, Diego Maradona, wept like a baby in the VIP stand at the stadium.

Just after eight days into the journey in Russia 2018 World Cup, four countries have already crashed out. Two African teams, Pharaohs of Egypt and Atlas Lions of Morocco were the first to kiss the dust, while Peru and Saudi Arabia joined them on Thursday. Australia’s survival still hangs on their 1-1 draw against Denmark.

While former World Champions, Spain, is hoping to clinch the ticket in their group ahead of Christiano Ronaldo-led Portugal and Iran. The host country, Russia, Croatia and France have all marched into the second round. That was the situation before Day Nine action yesterday with Nigeria facing Iceland in Volgragrad and Brazil battling for survival in St. Petersburg.

Before Thursday’s game involving Argentina and Croatia, many Argentine fans had gone ahead to extend their hotel bookings, especially in St. Petersburg. Majority of them had arrived in the city on the eve of the match from Dubai on Emirates flight.

It was learnt that Emirates recently extended its operational route to some South American cities, including Buenos Aires in Argentina and Sao Paulo in Brazil. It made it easier for many Argentine supporters to troop into Russia to support their teams.

Some of the fans who couldn’t arrive on time for the match in Nizhny Novgorod, decided to stay back in St. Petersburg ahead of the last group match against Nigeria. But their attention was clued to the battle in Novgorod.

The result was devastating, as Argentina suffered their worst loss at the FIFA World Cup group stage match in 60 years.

“I was so hopeful that Lionel Messi would be able to turn things around, but he failed and I am so disappointed,” one of the fans told The Guardian at the Park Inn Hotel in St. Petersburg.

The defeat has diminished any hope they have on their country, Argentina making it from the group stage. More annoyingly is the fact that their dismal outing against the Croats has added to Messi’s frustrating international career. Messi will turn 31 tomorrow, and he has never won any major title with the Argentine senior national team despite his numerous awards and accolades with Barcelona and as five times World Footballer of the Year laurels.

Messi had missed a penalty in their opening group match against Iceland, which ended 1-1. And against Croatia on Thursday, the world celebrated superstar could not get a single shot-at-goal in the whole of 90 minutes encounter.

Former Nigeria international, Olusegun Fatuga described Messi’s contribution to Argentina’s World Cup campaign so far in Russia as poor.

“I can’t believe that Messi is on the pitch and Argentina is being disgraced by Croatia. This is unbelievable, Fetuga, who was part of the Golden Eaglets’ squad to Canada ’87 and Scotland ’89 told The Guardian at the Park Inn Hotel in St. Petersburg.

Argentina, hurt by the poor performance of goalkeeper, Willy Caballero, had not lost by such wide margin in their first round since a 0-6 bashing they got from Czechoslovakia in 1958.


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