Croatia may have discovered the best way to stop Lionel Messi – simply don’t let him touch the ball.
The Argentina and Barcelona talisman entered the second game of the 2018 World Cup looking for a measure of redemption after missing a penalty against Iceland that contributed to a disappointing 1-1 draw in his team’s opening game .
But Croatia appeared determined to deny him that in the first half of the contest, as Messi simply was not afforded much in the way of opportunities to do much for Argentina.
Messi managed just 20 touches in the first half, the second fewest touches of any Argentina player, as his side ended up suffering an embarrassing 3-0 defeat to Croatia.
It was a stark change from what the superstar is used to and likely incredibly frustrating as Argentina tried to get their World Cup campaign on track.
As bad as it was for Messi, things were even uglier for Sergio Aguero.
The Manchester City man is surely used to fine service playing with Pep Guardiola’s rampaging side that scored 106 goals in the Premier League last season.
But he did not get that in the first half against Croatia, as Aguero managed just seven touches in the opening 45, the fewest of any Argentina player.
7 & 20 - The two Argentina players with the fewest touches in the first half vs Croatia are Sergio Aguero (7) and Lionel Messi (20). Wasted. #ARG #ARGCRO #WorldCup pic.twitter.com/WcXMFTVrSA — OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) June 21, 2018
And while it was slow to start for Aguero, things dried up completely in the latter part of the first half. The forward was not credited with a single touch in the final 21 minutes and 11 seconds of the opening stanza.
Despite that, Argentina did have a golden chance to take the lead in the first half, which ended scoreless.
Enzo Perez had a glorious opportunity to put Argentina in front with an open net, but falling down, was unable to pt his shot on frame in the 30th minute.
Things did not improve much in the second half. Aguero was an early exit, replaced by Gonzalo Higuain, right after a Willy Caballero mistake put Croatia up 1-0.
Goals from Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic completed the stunning 3-0 victory, leaving Messi and Argentina on the brink of World Cup disaster after two games.