Argentina vs Croatia: Ante Rebic the villain-turned-hero in crucial Group D victory - scouting report

The Eintracht Frankfurt winger was lucky not to be sent off before scoring a spectacular volley to put Croatia on the road to victory

Croatia World Cup profile

Ante Rebic was the hero as Croatia booked their place in the World Cup round of 16 while putting Argentina on the brink of elimination with a 1-0 victory in Nizhny Novgorod, though he so easily might have been the villain.

The bustling Eintracht Frankfurt winger was very lucky to escape a red card in the first half when he planted his studs on the ankle of Eduardo Salvio, before capitalising on a Willy Caballero howler to score the game’s decisive goal with a brilliant volley in the second.

It was a moment that capped the best season of Rebic’s rollercoaster career; he went into this World Cup still flush from the success of leading Eintracht to glory in the DFB Pokal final against Bayern Munich, where he scored twice in a shock 3-1 victory.

Bayern have been heavily linked with signing Rebic this summer after appointing former Eintracht boss Niko Kovac as their new coach, and the 24-year-old winger showcased the full range of his best and worst qualities against Argentina to leave the Bundesliga champions with much to ponder.

The game was set up for him to shine. Argentina’s switch to a 3-4-3 system left the flanks startlingly open for Croatia to exploit, and the best opportunities for either side in a tense first half came from Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic switching the play wide for Croatia with crisp, incisive passes.

Ivan Perisic forced one impressive save from Caballero with a low shot and Rebic was also a threat. In the 10th minute he drifted unmarked from the right into the penalty area, only to be let down by the quality of the overlapping Sime Vrsaljko’s scuffed delivery.

Argentina’s defenders pressed Rebic – who regularly switched sides with Perisic – tightly as he received the ball, keen not to let him turn and dart in behind. Before long he was embroiled in a running battle with Nicolas Tagliafico and Gabriel Mercado.

Croatia’s campaign at the 2014 World Cup ended in disgrace for Rebic after he was sent off for a studs-up challenge on Mexico midfielder Carlos Pena, and he was hugely fortunate not to suffer the same fate shortly before half-time in Nizhny Novgorod after inexplicably stamping on the ankle of Salvio.

Ravshan Irmatov – incredibly the same referee who sent Rebic off four years ago – swiftly produced his yellow card, meaning no subsequent VAR review could influence his decision.

Rebic made the most of his good fortune, though his first contribution to the second half was to miss a golden chance. A brilliant first-time Modric pass sent him running clean through on goal but his touch was wayward and, after checking back onto his right foot, he curled his shot high and wide of Caballero’s goal.

He was spectacularly ruthless, however, when the Argentina defence proved even more generous. Caballero attempted to dink the ball over the onrushing Rebic but got his contact all wrong, and the Eintracht winger was the calmest man in the stadium as he waited for the ball to drop before hammering a volley into the top corner.

Barely four minutes after scoring Rebic was forced off through injury, to be replaced by Andrej Kramaric. His goal forced Argentina to throw caution to the wind though, and Modric and Rakitic made the most of the gaping spaces they were afforded to put the game away and heap further misery on the great Lionel Messi.

It remains to be seen whether Rebic will play again for Croatia in this World Cup, but with the decisive first goal against Argentina he has already made a key contribution to his country’s campaign - and perhaps put himself in the shop window for a big move this summer.

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