It’s fair to say things didn’t quite go to plan for Argentina against Iceland on Saturday.
Lionel Messi and co. found themselves frustrated by well-drilled opponents and were ultimately forced to settle for a barely deserved point.
That result against the World Cup debutants isn’t a disaster. But in a group that also contains Croatia and Nigeria, it’s one that could come back to bite them.
If they fail to put in a positive performance against a dangerous Croatia side this evening, they’ll be in serious trouble.
Part of the problem for La Albiceleste against Iceland was that they visibly put all of their efforts into creating chances for Messi.
That’s fine. And make no bones about it the 5ft 7in maestro is a match winner. It’d be churlish to suggest otherwise. But while he may be a match winner, he can’t always do it all by himself.
Argentina’s problem is that it’s become engrained in their psyche that if Messi’s magic doesn’t work, nothing will.
Their performances in qualifying provide cast-iron evidence of that theory. In the eight matches that the Barcelona ace missed in CONMEBOL, Jorge Samaoli’s men won just a single one.
Only a Messi hat-trick in their final group game against Ecuador guaranteed their presence at the World Cup in Russia.
Without him on the pitch, the two-time tournament winners are hapless. And with him on the pitch, they’re even worse if he can’t produce a moment of magic to get his team out of trouble.
In many ways, Argentina could do well to take a leaf out of Portugal’s book. A Selecao das Quinas look towards Cristiano Ronaldo more often than not.
He was responsible for all three of their goals during Friday’s stunning 3-3 draw with Spain after all.
But they have the confidence, belief and know-how to work as a team around him. He operates within the team dynamic. At the moment, Messi, through no fault of his own, does not.
Indeed, 2016’s European Championship Final against France showed that even without Ronaldo, Portugal can still get the job done.
One thing is for sure – Argentina need to figure out the Messi conundrum soon.
If they don’t, a canny Croatia side featuring top-class performers including Luka Modric, Mateo Kovacic, Ivan Rakitic and Ivan Perisic could leave them reeling going into their final group match against Nigeria.
Zlatko Dalic’s men are a tougher proposition than Iceland.
And with a number of their own golden generation approaching the nadir of their respective careers, you can be sure they’ll be out for Argentinean blood in Nizhny Novgorod on Thursday evening.
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