Can Messi inspire Argentina back from the brink?
Argentina must defeat Nigeria and hope results go their way in Croatia v Iceland if they’re to have any chance of making the knockout stage.
A win over the Super Eagles coupled with a Croatia win will see Jorge Sampaoli’s side through. Alternatively, three points, a win for Iceland, and a better goal difference than the Nordic nation would also see them progress.
However, it’s been a traumatic and simply horrible World Cup for La Albiceleste. So much so, that after the 3-0 defeat to Croatia, an Argentine TV panel held a moment’s silence.
Things didn’t look too good coming into the tournament. The team narrowly qualified for the finals after Lionel Messi’s hat-trick in the final qualifier against Ecuador put them through.
Much like Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal, the burden falls heavily on the Barcelona superstar. But Messi has been a shadow of himself in the first two games. He missed a penalty against Iceland in the 1-1 draw.
It was reported that, between that game and the following clash against Croatia, the 31-year-old became reclusive. Apparently, he’d locked himself away from the rest of the squad.
As the anthems played in the second game, the camera panned to Messi as he stressfully clawed at his forehead. Argentina’s slow demise in the last 23 months or so, coupled with the pressure placed on him, seems to have shaken the former World Player of the Year.
But crisis points present opportunities. The obstacle is the way. And if Argentina are to find a way to redemption, then a Messi masterclass will need to be forthcoming.
That’s a little unfair on the man they call king. Particularly when you consider that attacking talent at Sampaoli’s disposal. But the former Chile head coach has been poor as Albiceleste boss.
The ex-Sevilla manager has made baffling calls that have hindered rather than helped Messi. His choice midfield pairing of Javier Mascherano and Enzo Perez meant Messi barely touched the ball against the Croatians.
Giovani Lo Celso and Ever Banega need to come in to facilitate a more fluid passing game. And Maximiliano Meza could do with dropping, too. The Independiente midfielder has been regularly occupying the space Messi would normally take up, and ruining moves.
So, if the question is, can Messi save Argentina then the answer is most definitely yes. However, there are a few more questions and only Sampaoli and the rest of the Argentina squad have the answers.
- Argentina are 8/13 to qualify for the last-16.
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