Argentina vs Croatia - Argentina on Show for London Fans at West Ham

Latinolife took a trip to East London to watch Argentina play and witness delighted Tevez's return to his rightful place in the Argentine squad. Here’s what we thought of the game.
Lewis Blakeman

Argentina marked the first of their two UK fixtures with a fairly comfortable victory over Croatia at West Ham’s Boleyn Ground. The match itself was more of an exhibition than anything – an opportunity for Argentina fans based in England to see their heroes in action – made particularly special by the return of Carlos Tevez at the ground where his European football career began.

An hour and a half before the match kicked off, supporters dressed in Argentina shirts and waving flags were already positioned pitch side, hoping to collect autographs from Lionel Messi and Co, and their unbridled idolisation of the Argentina captain was reflected throughout the match – with eruptions of cheering every time Messi got the ball. It was difficult to tell how many of these supporters were actual Argentines, or simply English fans seeking the chance to watch one football’s greatest ever players in action. The Argentine national anthem did however ring loud across the stadium before kick-off – with a large proportion coming from a conjugation of die-hard Argentina fans positioned behind one of the goals.

Wanting to put on a show for the fans who had made the trip, Tata Martino put out a very strong starting eleven, with Messi playing the full ninety minutes.  Experimenting with a 4,3,3 formation,  Martino positioned Messi on the right wing, with in-form striker Sergio Agüero taking the number nine position. For the opening half hour or so, it seemed his experiment wasn’t working, with Argentina giving away possession cheaply, and looking particularly shaky at the back. Croatia were able to capitalise, and took the lead through Anas Sharbini on eleven minutes. Agüero was bright throughout the first half; at one point delicately controlling a long ball before taking on two defenders and firing in a ferocious drive that was beaten away for a corner by the Croatia goalkeeper. On the right wing, Messi was equally impressive, cutting in from the touchline and threatening the opposition defence on a number of occasions.

After half time Argentina upped their game, and gave the fans who had made the trip to East London something to cheer about. The equalising goal came as a result of left-back Ansaldi – who was positive throughout – making a good run forward, and firing a shot at goal that deflected of Agüero and beat the goalkeeper. Eight minutes later, Messi threaded a pass through to Agüero who was fouled and a penalty was given. In front of the Argentina fans, Messi comfortably rolled the ball into the bottom right corner to score his 45th Argentina goal. Chants of “Messi, Messi” reverberated around the ground, but were replaced not long after with cheers for Carlos Tevez who was brought on for Sergio Agüero on in the 62nd minute.

Carlos Tevez – who is idolised by some even more than Messi in Argentina – was controversially left out of Argentina’s World-Cup squad by former manager Alejandro Sabella, and had not featured for the national team since 2011. His return was made all the more special by the setting in which it took place – West Ham United’s Boleyn Ground. Despite only playing one season for West Ham, Tevez is adored by West Ham fans, after he single-handedly saved them from relegation out of the Premier League back in 2007. With tickets for the game available discounted for West Ham fans, a number of spectators within the ground were locals, and their applause for Tevez alongside the Argentine cheers made his return all the more memorable.

On eighty minutes, Tevez had the chance to make the Boleyn Ground erupt with delight following good work from Messi to find him free within the box, but the Juventus forward dragged his shot wide of the far post. The final ten minutes saw Messi hit the post, before being nutmegged by Croatia’s Milan Badelj (which was greeted with ironic and friendly cheers) – with Argentina comfortably controlling possession until the final whistle.

After the game, Martino briefly addressed the press before he and his staff made their way through the press mixed zone. As with before the game, a number of fans stayed inside the ground over an hour after the game had finished, hoping to get autographs and photographs with Lionel Messi. When the Argentina captain made his way through the mixed zone, cameras and recording equipment employed by press and media stations from all over the world were trampled in the chaos, as the crowd surged forward hoping to get a few seconds of the four-time Ballon d'Or winner’s time. Eventually, Messi and his teammates made it onto the team coach, which again was mobbed by adoring fans. Seeing hundreds of young fans chasing the coach down Priory Road was a sight to behold – and demonstrates just how loved Lionel Messi is by world football fans.

The event as a whole was a very fun night’s worth of entertainment for football fans, and was very well planned out by the various associations involved. Allowing the fixture to take place at West Ham made it far more of a spectacle, while electing Croatia as opposition made a lot of sense too – given the relations between the two nations. English football fans were given the opportunity to watch Lionel Messi play (and score), while expatriate Argentines living in England were also granted the chance to cheer on their heroes. Argentina will play one more fixture in the UK this coming Tuesday (18th November) in Manchester United’s Old Trafford, where they will face Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal. Tickets are still on sale.