Rijeka striker Anas Sharbini gave Croatia, missing all of its first team regulars, a deserved lead midway through the first half, clinically finishing off after some good work from Inter Milan’s Mateo Kovačić. Argentina came out in the second spell a bit more desperate but were lucky to equalise after a shot from Ansaldi deflected off the hand of Manchester City striker Sergio Aguero. Organised and disciplined at the back, Argentina struggled to find a way through for the winner until an exquisite Lionel Messi pass drew goal keeper Lovre Kalinić into bringing down Aguero inside the box. Messi made no mistake from the spot to give Argentina the win.
“I am so proud of my boys and what they have shown against these kind of quality players. The Argentines are a joy to watch. I congratulate Croatia, we have been brave, smart and disciplined, showing the right kind of attitude. The first 45 minutes were near perfection, just as we agreed, while in the second half the things became more difficult. However, we have seen how we need to play for Croatia”, Croatia coach Niko Kovač said after the match, before adding.
“As an athlete and a former footballer, I never want to lose. But this is football, and Argentina had a couple of excellent chances to score more. I hoped for a surprise, I would have been extremely happy with a draw, but the way we played allows a defeat as well”.
Kovač was reluctant to single out any individuals, but did have a special mention for his Inter Milan midfielder.
“I don’t want to single anyone out, but Kovačić proved to be a quality player, and he has to do that match after match. He is still young, but is destined to be one of the key players for Croatia. All of my players have proved themselves. Croatia is maybe a small country, yet we have so many talented players. The core of the team in the European qualifiers will be the players that have stayed in Zagreb, and in London we have seen the alternative”, emphasized Croatia’s head coach.
“It is always nice to play in England, especially at this stadium with such a historic value. Bilić, Štimac and Šuker left a positive mark on West Ham’s ground, and I believe we have done the same today”, concluded Kovač. (Drago Sopta / HNS)