As expected, Lionel Messi wasn’t risked against Chile. The Barcelona superstar was a mere spectator from the bench but La Albiceleste still had enough attacking firepower in their ranks. Messi wasn’t needed but Argentina comfortably won 2-1 against the defending champions in their Group D opener in Santa Clara, California on Monday.
The difference between the two sides (and for that matter with all other 15 participating teams) lie in the bench strength. The likes of Ezequiel Lavezzi, Javier Pastore, Sergio Aguero, and Erik Lamela all joining Messi on the bench can easily walk into the first team of any side in the world.
Unlike Brazil, who looked a disjointed unit without Neymar in their opening match, Messi’s absence wasn’t felt against Chile. Angel Di Maria, Gonzalo Higuain, and Nicolas Gaitan formed the attacking trio in a 4-3-3 system, with the Benfica star coming in on as a direct replacement for Messi.
It was evident that Argentina would be relying heavily on wing play, and the duo nearly inspired a dream start within opening few seconds when Gaitan hit the bar with a header from a lovely swinging Di Maria cross.
Chile created several good chances and had they taken those (Sanchez was denied by Sergio Romero, Gonzalo Jara heading over the bar) the result could have been different.
In the second half, a change in the style from Argentine made all the difference. They almost replicated Chile’s approach to the first half and applied them to perfection, that is, they pressed high up the pitch, won balls in midfield and hit them on the counter putting enough bodies forward.
For instance, for the opening goal, Ever Banega intercepted a pass brilliantly in midfield and quickly hurried into the final third. All the three attacking forwards made a darting run into the box allowing the Sevilla midfielder to pick the right player. He passed on to the path of on-rushing Di Maria, who slammed his shot past Claudio Bravo, though the Barcelona goalkeeper should have done better at near post.
Six minutes later, Gaitan did a great job in snatching a ball from the flanks to pass it on to Di Maria, who slipped the ball in for Banega to score from an identical position. And once again, Bravo was culpable for conceding at near post, although this time the ball took a slight deflection on its way.
Argentina created more chances when Aguero came on in place of Higuain. Aguero is a great striker who brings a lot more to the game with his hold up play and relentless pressing. With Chile desperate in search of a goal, they left spaces behind in midfield in an attempt to put more men forward which Argentina managed to exploit very well.
The victory puts Gerardo Martino’s men in total control of Group D. It was clearly the toughest group stage encounter for Argentina and they passed with flying colours. Furthermore, Martino can give Messi enough rest to recover fully so that he returns fresh for tougher games in knockout rounds. Although the defence is still shaky and vulnerable at times but expect Argentina to go a long way in Copa America 2016.