Where Did Argenti­na Get Their Tac­tics Wrong against Croatia?

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 mea­ger 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.