Lionel Messi’s World Cup dream was left hanging by a thread as Croatia powered into the last 16 with a 3-0 rout of Argentina here Thursday.
Second-half goals from Ante Rebic, Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic sealed a deserved victory as a poor Argentina were left on the brink of a humiliating first round exit.
The Group D defeat means Argentina have just one point from two games, meaning they will probably have to beat Nigeria in their last game and hope other results go their way to avoid elimination.
The defeat leaves the Argentinians facing an ignominious repeat of their 2002 campaign when they also went out at the group stage after being tipped as possible World Cup winners.
All the attention after the 3-0 defeat will focus on Argentina and Messi but it was also the result of a fine performance by Croatia.
Messi, arguably the world’s best player, remained a peripheral and largely ponderous figure, briefly flashing to life on too few occasions.
The 30-year-old’s dream of winning the World Cup now look remote.