Lionel Messi's frustrating international career may be coming to an early and anti-climactic finish after Argentina's worst loss in World Cup group play in 60 years.
With Diego Maradona watching from the stands, the 2014 runners-up were routed by Croatia 3-0. The Croats are moving on to the round of 16. Messi got off only one shot in a defeat that pushed Argentina to the brink of elimination. Messi, who turns 31 on Sunday, has never won a major title with Argentina's senior national team despite of decade of championships with Barcelona and five player of the year awards.
"He is our captain, he leads the team and we quite simply couldn't pass to him," Argentina coach Jorge Sampaoli said. "We work to give Leo the ball, but the opponent also works hard to prevent him from getting the ball."
Messi also missed a penalty kick in his team's opening 1-1 draw against Iceland.
Argentina, hurt by the poor play of goalkeeper Willy Caballero, had not lost by such a large margin in the first round since a 6-1 defeat to Czechoslovakia in 1958. Caballero gained the starting role because No. 1 keeper Sergio Romero injured his knee last month in the run-up to the tournament.
"We have to swallow the poison," Argentina midfielder Javier Mascherano said. "The game says it all."
Argentina, which has not missed making the second round since 2002, has not been eliminated. But the two-time champions need to win their next match against Nigeria on Tuesday, as well as get help from other matches.