In soccer, it’s customary for teammates to greet and shake hands with each other and their opponents after the final whistle, regardless of the result. But following Argentina’s crushing 3-0 defeat at the hands of Croatia, Lionel Messi was having none of it. A stricken Messi appeared to trudge off the pitch at Nizhny Novgorod Stadium without saying a word to anyone, never mind a handshake.
The Argentina superstar barely had an impact on a game where the perennial World Cup favorites were thoroughly outclassed by an organized Croatia side that capitalized on Argentine mistakes and chose their moments to pick them apart. The dispiriting loss followed a World Cup opener in which Argentina was held to a 1-1 draw by World Cup minnows Iceland.
After the Iceland draw, he meandered off the pitch wearing a thousand-yard stare, not unlike the expression he wore after Argentina’s loss to Germany in the World Cup final four years ago. Or the one he wore the following year, after Argentina’s loss to Chile in the Copa America final. Or the one he wore 12 months later, when Argentina again fell to Chile in the Copa America Centenario final.
In short, we’ve come to see a lot of Messi looking crestfallen when Argentina play in major tournaments. And as you might expect, it seems to be getting to him.
Lionel Messi through his career
Lionel Messi through his career
Argentina's forward Lionel Messi reacts at the end of the Russia 2018 World Cup Group D football match between Argentina and Iceland at the Spartak Stadium in Moscow on June 16, 2018. (Photo by Mladen ANTONOV / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - NO MOBILE PUSH ALERTS/DOWNLOADS (Photo credit should read MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images)
Barcelona's Lionel Messi reacts during their Champions League semi-final second leg soccer match against Manchester United at Old Trafford in Manchester, northen England, April 29, 2008. REUTERS/Albert Gea (BRITAIN)
BARCELONA, SPAIN - MARCH 17: Lionel Messi of Barcelona celebrates the first goal during the UEFA Champions League round of sixteen second leg match between FC Barcelona and VfB Stuttgart at the Camp Nou stadium on March 17, 2010 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Christof Koepsel/Bongarts/Getty Images)
PRETORIA, SOUTH AFRICA - JUNE 05: (MINIMUM PRICING APPLIES - MINIMUM FEE OF GBP50 OR LOCAL EQUIVALENT FOR ALL USAGES ? PLEASE CONTACT LOCAL SALES OFFICE FOR ALL ENQUIRIES) Lionel Messi of Argentina poses during the official FIFA World Cup 2010 portrait session on June 5, 2010 in Pretoria, South Africa. (Photo by Ryan Pierse - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)
ZURICH, SWITZERLAND - JANUARY 10: Lionel Messi of Argentina during a press conference prior to the FIFA Ballon d'Or Gala 2010 t the congress hall on January 10, 2011 in Zurich, Switzerland. (Photo by Stuart Franklin - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)
BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA - JUNE 20: Lionel Messi of Argentina during a friendly match against Albania at the Monumental Vespucio liberti on June 20, 2011 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. (Photo by Fede Lopez Claro/LatinContent/Getty Images)
BARCELONA, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 24: Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona celebrates after scoring his third team's goal during the La Liga match between FC Barcelona and Club Atletico de Madrid at Camp Nou on September 24, 2011 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
ZURICH, SWITZERLAND - JANUARY 09: Lionel Messi of Argentina poses with the trophy after winning his third consecutive FIFA Ballon d'Or title at the FIFA Ballon d'Or Gala 2011 at the Kongresshaus on January 09, 2012 in Zurich, Switzerland. (Photo by Stuart Franklin - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)
BARCELONA, SPAIN - APRIL 24: Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona celebrates with his team-mate Andres Iniesta after Iniesta scored their team's second goal during the UEFA Champions League Semi Final, second leg match between FC Barcelona and Chelsea FC at Camp Nou on April 24, 2012 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
SANTIAGO, CHILE - OCTOBER 16: Lionel Messi of Argentina celebrates a goal during a match between Argentina and Chile as part of the South American Qualifiers for the FIFA Brazil 2014 World Cup at the Estadio Nacional on October 16, 2012 in Santiago, Chile. (Photo by Ignacio Iribarren/LatinContent/Getty Images)
VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - AUGUST 13: Lionel Messi attends the press confernce of Italy and Argentina Football Teams at The Vatican on August 13, 2013 in Vatican City, Vatican. (Photo by Ernesto Ruscio/Getty Images)
BARCELONA, SPAIN - NOVEMBER 23: Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona poses the Golden Boot for scoring 46 goals last season prior to the La Liga match between FC Barcelona and Granda CF at Camp Nou on November 23, 2013 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - JUNE 15: Lionel Messi of Argentina is challenged by Muhamed Besic of Bosnia and Herzegovina during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Group F match between Argentina and Bosnia-Herzegovina at Maracana on June 15, 2014 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Shaun Botterill - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)
BARCELONA, SPAIN - DECEMBER 07: Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona with the match ball after scoring three goals during the La Liga match between FC Barcelona and RCD Espanyol at Camp Nou on December 7, 2014 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)
GRANADA, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 28: Lionel Messi (R) of FC Barcelona celebrates scoring their third goal with teammate Luis Suarez (L) during the La Liga match between Granada CF and FC Barcelona at Nuevo Estadio de los Carmenes on February 28, 2015 in Granada, Spain. (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
BARCELONA, SPAIN - MAY 30: Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona celebrates after scoring the opening goal during the Copa del Rey Final match between FC Barcelona and Athletic Club at Camp Nou on May 30, 2015 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
ZURICH, SWITZERLAND - JANUARY 11: Carli Lloyd of USA and Houston Dash the recipient of the FIFA Women's World Player of the Year Award and Lionel Messi of Argentina and FC Barcelona recipient of the Ballon d'or pose during the FIFA Ballon d'Or Gala 2015 at the Kongresshaus on January 11, 2016 in Zurich, Switzerland. (Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images)
EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY - JUNE 26: Lionel Messi of Argentina reacts after losing the championship match between Argentina and Chile at MetLife Stadium as part of Copa America Centenario US 2016 on June 26, 2016 in East Rutherford, New Jersey, US. (Photo by Hector Vivas/LatinContent/Getty Images)
BILBAO, SPAIN - AUGUST 28: Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona reacts on prior to the start the La Liga match between Athletic Club Bilbao and FC Barcelona at San Mames Stadium on August 28, 2016 in Bilbao, Spain. (Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images)
BARCELONA, SPAIN - OCTOBER 19: Lionel Messi of Barcelona celebrates scoring his team's third goal to seal his hat-trick and make the score 3-0 during the UEFA Champions League match between FC Barcelona and Manchester City FC at Camp Nou on October 19, 2016 in Barcelona. (Photo by Matthew Ashton - AMA/Getty Images)
BEIJING, CHINA - JUNE 01: FC Barcelona's striker Lionel Messi speaks during a news conference at China World Trade Center Grand Hotel on June 1, 2017 in Beijing, China. Messi arrived in China to attend an event related to the Messi soccer Eco Experience Pavilion. The park is to be build in Nanjing and will be the largest theme park in the world. (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JUNE 09: Lionel Messi of Argentia walks from the ground at half time during the Brasil Global Tour match between Brazil and Argentina at Melbourne Cricket Ground on June 9, 2017 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Darrian Traynor/Getty Images for ICC)
Barcelona's forward from Argentina Lionel Messi (L) vies with Eibar's defender from Spain David Junca during the Spanish league football match FC Barcelona against SD Eibar at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on September 19, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / PAU BARRENA (Photo credit should read PAU BARRENA/AFP/Getty Images)
Barcelona's Argentinian forward Lionel Messi poses with the 2017 European Golden Shoe honoring the year's leading goalscorer during a ceremony at the Antigua Fabrica Estrella Damm in Barcelona on November 24, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Josep LAGO (Photo credit should read JOSEP LAGO/AFP/Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - Barcelona's Argentinian forward Lionel Messi celebrates after scoring his second goal during the Spanish league football match between FC Barcelona and Girona FC at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on February 24, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / LLUIS GENE (Photo credit should read LLUIS GENE/AFP/Getty Images)
MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - MARCH 23: Argentina's Lionel Messi arrives at the at Etihad Stadium ahead of the on International Friendly between Argentina and Italy March 23, 2018 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Tom Flathers/Man City via Getty Images)
BARCELONA, SPAIN - MAY 06: Lionel Messi of Barcelona celebrates after scoring his sides second goal during the La Liga match between Barcelona and Real Madrid at Camp Nou on May 6, 2018 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Following the Iceland draw, the team organized a family barbecue to celebrate Father’s Day, and perhaps to lift the mood in the camp following a disappointing, if not devastating opener. But instead of joining his teammates in the festivities, Messi reportedly remained in his room. Alone.
Prior to the kickoff against Croatia, cameras caught the usually stoic Barcelona star looking uncharacteristically emotional as the Argentine national anthem was played.
All signs ahead of the match essentially indicated that perhaps Messi was not quite right heading into this. His performance backed up those suspicions. During the first half, he registered fewer touches than Argentina keeper, Willy Caballero, whose second-half howler gifted Croatia the opening goal. In the second half, he showed an uncharacteristic flash of temper after becoming entangled with Croatia fullback Ivan Strinic.
Most tellingly, during the entire course of the match, the Barcelona superstar registered just a single shot on Croatia’s goal.
Thursday’s loss has left Argentina on the brink. Even a win in the final game against Nigeria may not be enough to see the two-time World Cup winners through to the next round. But with Messi, ostensibly the team’s leader, in his current state of mind, a win against a middling Nigeria team is far from guaranteed.
Messi has retired from international duty once before, following the 2015 Copa America final loss. It’s difficult to imagine him continuing his international career should Argentina indeed fail to make it past the group stage.