There were fears in Argentina that their national team could fall flat on their face at World Cup 2018. A 1-1 draw with minnows Iceland in their opening Group D match did little to dispel the idea.
La Albiceleste’s star player Lionel Messi saw a penalty kick saved by Icelandic goalkeeper Hannes Halldorsson in the second half, as the South American struggled against the well-drilled Nordic team. A winning goal would have been more than the South American giants deserved to take from the game, though.
Iceland deserved immense credit for their performance. They are the smallest nation to take part at a World Cup and they were superb against a football giant. The Nordic nation are gathering a reputation for against all odds displays and they could for a second major tournament running become the neutrals favourites.
Argentina far too dependent on Lionel Messi
Lionel Messi is a football legend and icon. However, La Albiceleste are far too dependent on the little Barcelona magician. The 30-year-old had a game to forget against Iceland and his team suffered because none of his teammates stepped had the tools to help.
Argentina boss Jorge Sampaoli has geared the team towards Messi, which is understandable. However, Argentina has players in their squad who can be matchwinners on their day.
Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero may have opened the scoring, but for the rest of the game, he was uncharacteristically quiet. Experienced Juventus striker Gonzalo Higuain appeared off the bench in the second half and had little effect on the game.
Usually, these players take responsibility at club level. However, they seem to use Messi’s presence on the pitch as a way of shifting responsibility. It is not a new phenomenon, though, it has happened for virtually the last decade.
Completely lacking ideas
Once again, if Messi does not produce a moment of magic, Argentina seem to fail to create anything. The midfield and attackers ran out of ideas when faced with a well set-up Iceland team.
They also lacked width until the introduction of young winger Cristian Pavon, who seemed the most lively of Argentina’s attacking players in the second half.
The winger should have had a penalty and flashed in a few dangerous crosses. Apart from Pavon showing signs of life, La Albiceleste looked void of any creativity, apart from Messi, who even on a bad day was more likely to have an effect on the game than his teammates.
I have a feeling that the highly rated Pavon may get a chance to shine from the start in Argentina’s next match against Croatia. The likes of Angel Di Maria and Maximiliano Meza offered very little.
For a squad full of big name players there was very little football intelligence and know how on display against an admittedly well organised Iceland side.
Argentina cannot afford another slip-up
Prior to the World Cup, some suggested that Argentina might not even progress beyond the group stages. Uncertainty about the goalkeeper’s position, a leaky defence and a lack of cohesion between the team’s attackers were all valid reason for that concern. The opening game draw against Iceland adds to the validity of those claims.
Argentina are now second favourites to qualify from Group D at odds of 5/4. La Albiceleste’s next opponents Croatia are now favourites to top the group after an opening game 2-0 win over Nigeria. The opening group results mean that Argentina cannot afford another slip up against Croatia. Even a draw against the Croats could put their qualification hopes in doubt.
Argentina may have only played one game at World Cup 2018, but the early signs are not good for Sampaoli and his team. Their complete reliance on Messi is hindering their chances of lifting the trophy.
Messi does not come across as someone who would begrudge one of his teammates taking responsibility. In fact, the 30-year-old was crying out for help against Iceland and nobody was brave enough to help him.
Argentina must improve or they could face the very real possibility that they will head home before the knockouts stages.
Is a group stage exit a realistic proposition for Argentina at World Cup 2018?
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