If Argentina are going to survive in this World Cup, they need fresh impetus, a new system, and certainly a new goalkeeper.
Willy Caballero was never meant to be their number one in Russia but the injury to Sergio Romero forced coach Jorge Sampaoli to make a choice. He went with the 36-year-old, who only made his international debut in March. After Thursday's 3-0 defeat to Croatia, that decision may have cost his side a place in the last 16.
Caballero has had a fine career but the warning signs have been flashing brightly. He shipped five goals against Spain in that humiliating 6-1 friendly loss in Madrid before these finals, and he seemed to create a constant unease in their surprise opening draw with Iceland.
What happened in Nizhny Novgorod was an error of an altogether different category. With the ball trickling back towards his goal, Ante Rebic giving chase, all the uncertainty about his own form seemed to cloud at once around Caballero's shining bald head. He neither cleared to the sidelines, nor found a team-mate; instead, he chipped the ball up and into the perfect striking distance for Rebic, who volleyed sweetly into the net.
Caballero's face was immediately in his hands. Sampaoli mirrored the gesture on the bench, as did approximately 10,500 Argentina fans who had made the stadium a cauldron of noise until then.
Argentina's malaise cannot be blamed entirely on the goalkeeper, of course. They were better than they were against Iceland here for the first hour, but drastically short of good enough. Possession and high pressing is only useful if it leads to chances, and the only one of note fell to Enzo Perez in the first half, who fluffed his lines horribly.
21:11 - Sergio Aguero didn't touch the ball at all in the final 21 minutes & 11 seconds of the first half for Argentina vs Croatia (incl. injury time). Lonely. #ARGCRO #ARG #CRO #WorldCup pic.twitter.com/S2O10dbom4— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) June 21, 2018
Sampaoli has continually tinkered with his system and line-up in a bid to bring the best out of Lionel Messi. This time, he switched to 3-4-3, adding flying wing-backs to aid the Barcelona star and Maximiliano Meza in the wide positions, who in turn supported Sergio Aguero. The fact the Manchester City man spent 21 minutes and 11 seconds of the first half without touching the ball says enough about how successful the plan was.
In the aquatic-themed Nizhny Novgorod Stadium, this had felt like a watershed moment for Sampaoli's Argentina. The deafening support of the travelling fans was commendable, especially after the Iceland disappointment. The ground itself is even blue and white, both outside and in terms of seat colour.
It was a home away from home, wrecked by a goalkeeping calamity, an uncertain system and a stunning strike from Luka Modric. Caballero could not even redeem himself in injury time, his low save to deny Ivan Rakitic sending the ball straight to Mateo Kovacic, who teed up the Barcelona man for a tap-in. Messi watched on from the halfway line, scarcely reacting at all.
Argentina's World Cup is not over yet. A win for Nigeria over Iceland, or even a draw, in Friday's Group D match would help their cause. But forgetting this Nizhny nightmare will take some doing.
|Del Bosque, Zidane, Lopetegui - The former Castilla coaches Solari follows into Real Madrid hot seat|
|Ozil rejected ´crazy offers´ from Asia, reveals agent|
|Real Madrid appoint Solari on permanent basis|
|LeVert avoids need for surgery, should return this season|
|Neuer confident despite concerns over Bayern Munich form|
|All I ever wanted to do is win, says Sixers signing Butler|
|Pogba: Coming home to United was the best feeling ever|
|Watson among four signing new Bath deals|
|Susanna Dinnage to replace Scudamore as Premier League chief executive|
|Murray commits to Brighton until 2020|
|Rooney rejected chance of pre-World Cup farewell|
|Impressive Anderson thrashes Nishikori|
|Ozil´s Germany absence a ´pity´, says Sane|
|Rooney: I´ll finish my career in the US|
|McIlroy unsure of 2019 European Tour membership|
|Australian Open dismisses concerns of Federer scheduling bias|
|Hue Jackson joins Bengals staff as ´special assistant´|
|Real Madrid confirm Reguilon injury|
|Higuain handed two-match ban for Juve meltdown|
|Kruis ruled out for England as Jones calls up uncapped quartet|
|A year on from Italy failure, Ventura leaves Chievo after four games|
|Bairstow misses out as unchanged England promote Stokes|
|Recalled Alba denies Luis Enrique bust-up|
|´Unhappy´ Christensen won´t push for Chelsea exit|
|Nadal to make Abu Dhabi comeback in December|
|Taijul helps Bangladesh tighten their grip despite Taylor ton|
|Neymar joining Real Madrid wouldn´t hurt Iniesta|
|It´s just team spirit - Livingston not worried by Durant-Green exchange|
|Trippier out of England squad with groin injury|
|Ex-Sri Lanka international Lokuhettige charged by ICC|
|Former England and Chelsea star Joe Cole retires|
|Nets offer support to LeVert following serious leg injury|
|Panenka proud Sergio Ramos imitates his penalties|
|Liverpool´s Alisson seeks patience to reach potential|
|Anthony Davis leads Pelicans, Clippers hold off Warriors in OT|
|Lindelof rues international break for Man Utd|
|Shaqiri confident in more goals for Liverpool|
|Giants too good for 49ers in crunch time|
|Southgate named honorary Yorkshireman|
|Nicky Butt: Manchester United are low on confidence|
|Criticism of Barcelona star Dembele is overblown - agent|
|Thibodeau discusses Butler trade: We thought this was the best deal for us|
|Acuna, Ohtani win rookie of the year awards|
|LeBron James on Lakers’ early season struggles: ‘I almost cracked’|
|Welbeck has successful second operation on broken ankle|
|UEFA warns FFP cases can be reopened based on ´new information´|
|Foakes to keep England place for second Test|
|WATCH: Rooney looking sharp in England training return|
|Mbappe: Money in football is truly indecent|
|Djokovic back to brilliant best as Isner is beaten|
|Celta Vigo replace Mohamed with Cardoso after Real Madrid defeat|
|Joshua intrigued by Usyk, says Hearn|
|Ibrahimovic beats Rooney to MLS Newcomer award|
|Rams WR Kupp out for season with torn ACL|
|Sturridge denies ever gambling on football following FA charge|
|Koeman understands De Ligt´s Eredivisie frustrations|
|Jimmy Butler trade: 76ers acquire Timberwolves star in blockbuster deal|
|´Improve your attitude´ - Deschamps issues Dembele warning|
|Sturridge charged with misconduct over alleged breach of betting rules|
|Saints sign Marshall following Bryant injury|
|Mendy suffers knee injury, leaves France squad with Lacazette|
|Zverev beats Cilic in error-strewn London battle|
|Rafinha replaces injured Casemiro in Brazil squad|
|´One-dimensional´ Australia batsmen need work before World Cup - Finch|
|Mancini keen to work with ´incredibly gifted´ Tonali|
|Italian manager of the year Allegri targets long Juve stay|
|Injured Lee departs as Wales prepare squad for Tonga|
|Conte content to wait until June for coaching return|
|Etzebeth set to return, Whiteley a doubt for Scotland Test|
|In-form Verstappen does not need distractions from 2019 challenge|