I am not sure how Argentina qualified for the knockout stages of World Cup 2018, but somehow they did. La Albiceleste produced woeful performance in a lacklustre draw with Iceland, while a miserable 3-0 defeat against Croatia followed.
However, a 2-1 win over Nigeria on Tuesday night coupled with a 2-1 defeat for Iceland at the hands of the impressive Croatian’s has put the South Americans through to the knockout stages of Russia 2018.
Jorge Sampaoli’s team came within minutes of elimination from the competition. The most unlikely of heroes stepped up on 86 minutes to save their skins, as Manchester United centre-back Marcos Rojo found himself in the box to produce a superb volleyed finish. The goal was one that would have made any striker proud.
Question marks over the boss
I have to say for much of his coaching career boss Sampaoli has proven to be a good coach. However, his time at Sevilla and with Argentina has led to question marks about him as a genuinely top-level boss. Some of his decisions have been highly questionable, both before and during World Cup 2018.
One of the most questionable decisions he made was to leave Inter’s Marco Icardi out of his 23-man squad for the World Cup. His use or more importantly lack of use Juventus’ talented forward Paolo Dybala in the last three games has also led to questions about Sampaoli’s decision-making.
For me, both would have been more useful than Gonzalo Higuain up front against Nigeria. Higuain seems to have rotated with Sergio Aguero of late in the central striker role.
Higuain has a superb goalscoring record at club-level. However, for some reason on the international stage in big games, he freezes and snatches at chances. His performance in front of goal at the last few international tournaments has cost Argentina dearly.
Players just not good enough
Argentina is a country famous for producing top talent. However, Higuain, Angel Di Maria and Javier Mascherano have struggled to perform to the same standard as they have at club level for the last decade or so.
To be fair Mascherano is ageing. The fact he no longer plies his trade at Barcelona and in China maybe illustrates that he is not the player he was once. Unfortunately, age catches up with us all in the end. It is easy to see Mascherano retiring from international football at the end of World Cup 2018.
Higuain has scored 31 goals in 75 appearances for his country, which is not a terrible record. However, as previously mentioned when given chances to score in pressure situations he fails to produce for Argentina.
Angel Di Maria had a superb World Cup 2014. However, he has been in and out of the team at World Cup 2018. When the PSG star has been on the pitch, the winger has created very little in a team devoid of creativity. He needs to up his game in the next game if selected.
Then there is Maximiliano Meza. The winger was regarded as a player who could have a big tournament in Russia. Instead, the 26-year-old has badly underwhelmed and possessed very little attacking threat.
The team has lacked creativity, until of course the inclusion of Sevilla star Ever Banega in the Nigeria game. The 29-year-old showed flair, creativity and enabled star player Messi to thrive finally after two frustrating group games.
Argentina will need fortune to beat France in the last 16
In terms of quality and sheer woeful performances, I do not believe that I have seen a worse Argentina team at a World Cup. Despite their lack of quality in Russia so far, La Albiceleste have made it to the knockout stages.
The South Americans will play France in the last 16, a game they are odds of 27/10 to win after their recent poor performances. Sampaoli’s team will need good fortune to beat Les Bleus, despite Didier Deschamps side not being at their best in the group stages.
I have a feeling that when the next set of international fixtures roll around, the Argentina squad will be very different to the one we have seen in Russia. It there is no significant changes to the current squad, then it will be a big surprise.
Which Argentina player has been the most disappointing at Russia 2018?
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