Where did Argentina get their tactics wrong against Croatia?

After a slow start to the tournament, the stage was set for Lionel Messi to stamp his authority on the World Cup. But Croatia had another ideas, with shape, teamwork, and cohesiveness the catalyst for a deserved 3-0 victory.

How wasteful were Argentina with the ball?

Our Sportscode output window shows that Argentina dominated possession, holding 57.6% of the ball and completing 126 more passes than the Croatians. 

The Argentines also completed 1.85 passes on average per possession, compared to a 1.31 average for their opponents.

42% of their passes were sideways, compared to only 29% from Croatia.

Given Croatia let off four more shots and 14 more forward passes on a lower percentage of possession, suggests that they were much more efficient in their use of the ball than Argentina.

Our Sportscode output window showing evidence that Argentina did not make the most of their statistical advantages in possession.

Who are you crossing to?

Argentina lacked height in the attacking third. This is fine if you want to play on the floor, but the insistence of the Argentine wide players to fire crosses into a box with no attacking threat was mystifying.

Sergio Aguero was starved of service to his feet and of the 13 crosses that went into the Croatian box, only one was successful.

Croatia also successfully defended every corner in the match, winning first contact on every cross coming into the box. 

Croatia effectively covering an Argentine cross.

How did Croatia stop Messi?

Messi made the third fewest passes in the Argentina side and had the third fewest touches of the starting 11. 

Messi was not man marked in the old fashioned sense, rather Croatia used their compact shape to zonally mark Messi.

Croatia were compact in their shape and disciplined with their distance between midfield and defence.

If Messi was playing wide on the right, it was Ivan Strinic's job at left back to pick up his run, while if he drifted into central areas it was the central midfielders Brozovic and Rakitic who screened him.

It is no surprise that these three players led the count for duels with the Argentine captain. Brozovic had eight duels, with Rakitic completing seven and Strinic four.


Argentina started with a 3-4-3 with Messi operating in somewhat of a free role on as number 10. Max Meza worked with Marcos Acuna and left fullback Nicolas Tagliafico to give Argentina width on occasion.

In the second half when Argentina were chasing the game, Eduardo Salvio was introduced to the right wing, with right centre back Gabriel Mercado given license to move up the pitch.

Croatia played a compact and well drilled 4-3-3. Their distances were very tight throughout, allowing little space for Argentina to penetrate.

With Brozovic and Rakitic stationed in Messi's space, Croatia's strict 4-3-3 kept the Argentine attacker quiet.

Messi vs Modric: Who came out on top?

Our Sportscode head-to-head output window shows Modric holding a key advantage in several crucial areas.

The Croatian playmaker completed 39 passes to Messi's 29, with 56% of these passes being forward, compared to only 34% of Messi's traveling towards the goal.

Modric was 100% in his dribbles and had a total of 58 actions in the match -- Eight more than Messi.

Modric was also a contributor to Croatia's tight defensive plan, winning back possession five times for his team and completing eight interceptions compared to Messi's total of three.

The Sportscode head-to-head window shows Luka Modric as instrumental on the ball for Croatia. He also put in a shift in the defence when needed.

Post-match review:

This match was a key example of teamwork winning out over individual brilliance. 

Before their final Group D match on Tuesday, Nigeria will be looking at how cutting off Messi effectively ground the Argentine attacking machine to a halt.

Croatia limited Messi and the rest of Argentina's attacking space to a minimum, and were extremely resourceful with the ball, firing off 14 shots with the meagre 42% of possession they had to work with.

The discipline Croatia showed in this match will serve them well in the knockout rounds, where games are often decided by one piece of brilliance, or one lapse in judgement.

For Argentina, a total lack of cohesiveness is a total concern for coach Sampaoli. There simply must be a better tactical approach than pass it to Messi and see what happens.