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World Cup 2018: Argentina hardly lives, Pogba comes alive

MOSKVA – Day 8 in the World Cup 2018 was defined by Lionel Messi's continued frustration and Argentina fans suffering, who saw his team lose 3-0 to Croatia in a one-sided headliner of today's triple title. [19659002] Thursday was also defined by the remaining Paul Pogba and France who made progress to the knockout scene with Croatia after a 1-0 victory over Peru; and with a brave 1-1 tie earned by Australia against Denmark that keeps the Aussies alive in Group C.

Here are my six thoughts on Day 8:

Argentina is still alive, but it feels hardly like that

Croatia earned the Messi and Argentineans in Nizhny Novgorod and left the Argentine with only one point from two games (and a minus 3 goal difference) and Messi again had a small impact on the game. Give credit for it to Croatia, which defeated Messi defensively, but also blame coach Jorge Sampaoli, who has been experimenting with lineups since he took over and tried something new again on Thursday, moving from a four-lane back to a 3-4-3 .

Suddenly, Ángel Di María was nowhere to be found (he was an unused substitute). Suddenly in the starting lineup was Enzo Pérez, who was not even in the squad until he was called to replace the injured Manuel Lanzini (it was Pérez who missed an open goal in the first half of the Thursday).

Even before the game began, Messi looked like a man with a headache in migraines. It will only intensify now.

Croatia was amazing

Croatia defended well. Croatia attacked well, opened spaces and took advantage by mistake (take a bow, Ante Rebic). Croatia was absolutely class, from Luka Modric's individual strike strike from the distance to Ivan Rakitic's poise in front of the strike no. 3. Croatia did everything right and never looked at danger to be part of a battleless Argentina.

Coach Zlatko Dalic just entered the team at the end of the World Cup qualifying, but he rallied Croatia to qualify for Russia in 2018 and has clearly stabilized a team that can now make a deep jump.

Sometimes you get a Goycochea; Sometimes you get a Caballero

At World Cup 1990 Argentina famously saw the starting game Nery Pumpido go out injured in his first match, just to replace Sergio Goycochea to make great efforts to help the Argentines to the final. But there are two sides on the coin, as we saw in painful detail on Thursday. Argentina lost starter Sergio Romero to injury before the tournament, and although Romero said he could have come back and been ready for the World Cup, Sampaoli decided he would let him out of the squad altogether. The new starter Willy Caballero made a terrifying blow to Croatia, which gave Rebic a subcooked lap that Rebic bowed to the Argentina goal.

There will be many questions to Sampaoli for his decision makers, not least his call to join Caballero (a reserve at Chelsea) over Franco Armani (a starter with River Plate). What a mess.

Paul Pogba Enjoying His Football More With France Than Manchester United

It's not hard to do, of course, given the season just ended in United, but Pogba we saw on Thursday did Again the difference in the moments that rolled. Given the freedom to advance higher up on the field with France, Pogba came tremendously to win the ball deep in Peruvian half and set France's opening goal.

There were other moments when Pogba caused the ball to go and allowed himself a part of feeling – just a little jump and a ship – which created space and showed that he enjoyed his football. France has the highest ceiling for any team in this World Cup when Les Bleus is shooting on all cylinders. They only need to find that level more consistently when the tournament progresses.

Australia is the World Cup team most like the United States

The Aussies got a winning point against Denmark and actually the team was more likely to catch a winner in the later stages of the game – thanks largely to the work of it exciting 19 year old Daniel Arzani. Yes, both Australian goals in the tournament have been penalized, but there is value in it (and in Mile Jedinak reliably converts them).

Australia's identity reminds me of America's identity when it's been best over the years: Team first, hard to play against, with at least one or two players who can bring something to the game creatively. Australia does not give up, and its score on Thursday means it still has a chance to move on to the 16th in its group final against Peru.

Peru is Out and It's a Bummer

The Peruvians were such an emotional story that reached its first World Cup since 1982 and brought so many thousand fans to Russia that you could not help but be blown away by the passion they had for their team in the streets here. But Peru was eliminated on Thursday after a 1-0 loss to France, which followed a 1-0 loss for Denmark.

Peru fans will always wonder how things could have been different if Paolo Guerrero had started the first game and even more importantly, if Christian Cueva had converted a first half penalty against Denmark who would have given his side a 1-0 lead . Instead, Cueva launched his spot park across the bar and into orbit, and Peru never end up finding the back of the net in the games that played. We lift an Inca Kola to Peru tonight.

Grant Wahl has covered football for 22 years at Sports Illustrated. His new book, Masters of Modern Soccer, details the craft in the football position by position. You can order this.

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