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In soccer, it’s customary for teammates to greet and shake hands with each other and their opponents after the final whistle, regardless of the result. But following Argentina’s crushing 3-0 defeat at the hands of Croatia, Lionel Messi was having none of it. A stricken Messi appeared to trudge off the pitch at Nizhny Novgorod Stadium without saying a word to anyone, never mind a handshake.
The Argentina superstar barely had an impact on a game where the perennial World Cup favorites were thoroughly outclassed by an organized Croatia side that capitalized on Argentine mistakes and chose their moments to pick them apart. The dispiriting loss followed a World Cup opener in which Argentina was held to a 1-1 draw by World Cup minnows Iceland.
While the whole team rightfully shares the blame for Argentina’s woeful showing at this World Cup, Messi has been particularly singled out for criticism. He is Albiceleste’s talisman and best player, but he also squandered an opportunity to win the opener against Iceland by botching a penalty kick.
After the Iceland draw, he meandered off the pitch wearing a thousand-yard stare, not unlike the expression he wore after Argentina’s loss to Germany in the World Cup final four years ago. Or the one he wore the following year, after Argentina’s loss to Chile in the Copa America final. Or the one he wore 12 months later, when Argentina again fell to Chile in the Copa America Centenario final.
In short, we’ve come to see a lot of Messi looking crestfallen when Argentina play in major tournaments. And as you might expect, it seems to be getting to him.
Following the Iceland draw, the team organized a family barbecue to celebrate Father’s Day, and perhaps to lift the mood in the camp following a disappointing, if not devastating opener. But instead of joining his teammates in the festivities, Messi reportedly remained in his room. Alone.
Prior to the kickoff against Croatia, cameras caught the usually stoic Barcelona star looking uncharacteristically emotional as the Argentine national anthem was played.
All signs ahead of the match essentially indicated that perhaps Messi was not quite right heading into this. His performance backed up those suspicions. During the first half, he registered fewer touches than Argentina keeper, Willy Caballero, whose second-half howler gifted Croatia the opening goal. In the second half, he showed an uncharacteristic flash of temper after becoming entangled with Croatia fullback Ivan Strinic.
Most tellingly, during the entire course of the match, the Barcelona superstar registered just a single shot on Croatia’s goal.
Thursday’s loss has left Argentina on the brink. Even a win in the final game against Nigeria may not be enough to see the two-time World Cup winners through to the next round. But with Messi, ostensibly the team’s leader, in his current state of mind, a win against a middling Nigeria team is far from guaranteed.
Messi has retired from international duty once before, following the 2015 Copa America final loss. It’s difficult to imagine him continuing his international career should Argentina indeed fail to make it past the group stage.
More World Cup on Yahoo Sports:
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• Schaerlaeckens: Messi’s World Cup legacy is fizzling out
• Underappreciated Pogba emblematic of why France is dangerous
• Schaerlaeckens: Time for Mexican fans to end homophobic chant