Hope for Argentina with Messi and Di Maria

Matthew Stanger watched Argentina struggle against Iran in Belo Horizonte but saw glimpses from Messi and Di Maria to suggest they could find form in time for the bigger challenges to come...

Last Updated: 22/06/14 at 08:31 Post Comment

Latest Articles

Everton Rise To The Occasion Once Again

7 comments

After Spurs' dreadful 0-0 draw with Partizan Belgrade, Matt Stanger was grateful to see Everton mirror their manager's enthusiasm with a bold display against Wolfsburg...

A New Deal? Yaya Needs To Earn His Place First...

18 comments

His performance against Bayern Munich was his worst of a season that has not quite started for Yaya Toure, who looks disinterested after a summer of unrest...

All Articles

A moment of routine brilliance from Lionel Messi eventually settled Argentina's arduous battle with Iran, but this was another unconvincing display from Alejandro Sabella's side. There was a feeling of relief in the press conference after qualification for the last 16 was secured with a scrappy 1-0 win, but both Messi and Sabella acknowledged that improvement is required. "We know we're not playing as well as expected," said Messi. "But still, we will keep preparing and try to improve the mistakes we have made." Unless that is achieved in the next week, Argentina can expect to be eliminated by the first genuine contender they meet.

As in the second half of the victory over Bosnia and Herzegovina, Messi must have felt vindicated in requesting - or demanding - that Argentina play in a 4-3-3 system in the first 45 minutes against Iran. Carlos Quieroz's team sat deep and packed the defence to make life difficult for their opponents, but chances for Gonzalo Higuain, Sergio Aguero and Angel Di Maria suggested it would only be a matter of time until Argentina made the decisive breakthrough - an opinion shared by Messi as he collected his man of the match award.

Di Maria, in particular, impressed in a first half of one-way traffic. From his position on the left of a midfield three, the Real Madrid star surged forward to find gaps in the Iranian backline and create opportunities for his teammates. Compared to a strolling Messi, who later admitted he struggled with the heat, Di Maria was a real bundle of energy. As he pressed and probed the left flank with purpose, it became clear that Messi's favoured 4-3-3 formation hinges greatly on the 26-year-old's contribution.

Di Maria is well-versed in this system after being required to adapt to a similar role under Carlo Ancelotti at Real Madrid. Despite dropping back behind the three forwards following Gareth Bale's arrival at the Santiago Bernabeu, he still provided 17 assists in La Liga - four more than any other player and 11 more than his tally in the previous season - as well as an outstanding performance in the Champions League final. Before Ancelotti's appointment, Di Maria was regarded as something of a luxury, but he has readily embraced his new responsibilities to become a crucial cog for both club and country. An Angel with dirty laces, if you will.

The second half didn't bring the comfort that Messi and Argentina's noisy support had expected. Both the talisman and Di Maria were closely marked by Iran's resilient defence, with space quickly sucked away in the stifling sunshine. "It was a difficult game, difficult for us to find spaces. It was very hot as well," said Messi. "Both me and Di Maria couldn't create spaces. I don't think they were marking just me."

Although Iran mounted several impressive counter-attacks as the game became stretched in the final half-hour, there is a sense that Argentina's 4-3-3 formation stands a greater chance of success against opponents with more invention. "I think Bosnia play more attacking while Iran, at least from what I've seen, is more prepared to defend and counter-attack. Messi was marked all the time. Iran had many people on Messi," said Sabella. "This sort of thing (a laboured display) can happen. It shouldn't, but it does. Of course we all want Argentina to win, so we will try to strike a balance which is not easy."

The first two games have emphasised the difficulty of the task Sabella is facing. However, with Di Maria central to Argentina's approach, and Messi in the mood for moments of genius, there is hope that speedy progress can be made. Argentina have two more matches - against Nigeria and probably Switzerland in the second round - to get it right. They should stick with a system that produced convincing results in qualifying and that gets the best out of their top two performers as they prepare for tougher battles ahead.

By Matthew Stanger in Belo Horizonte - Follow him on Twitter

It's perhaps the nature of football to focus on goal scorers but I think the goalkeeper deserves great praise for keeping Argentina in consecutive games and allowing Messi to make the difference with one goal by stopping the opposition from getting the advantage. Nobody seems to be picking up on the performances of Sergio Aguero either, the best, only possibly second to Suarez, player in the Premier League has looked pedestrian in the first 2 games.
- shea666

Football365 Facebook Fan Page

The Football365 fan page is a great place to meet like minded people, have football related discussions and make new friends.

Most Commented

Readers' Comments

H

ilarious, thanks for that. But if I may, I do suspect the reason of your partners' ire is not Tottenham, but most probably all the compusilve gambling :)

DannySmith
Backing Costa To Keep Banging 'Em In

T

wo police horses in a paddock. Horse 1: What's with the long face? Horse 2: I'm working St James Park this weekend.

hump3.
Pardew - It's mass hysteria

T

wo things. First, I can't stop reading your name as 'Dane Bowers'. Second, you used the words 'philosophy' and 'Redknapp' in the same sentence.

ajsr1982
Can United's Defence Handle Ulloa?

Latest Photos

Footer 365

Premier League: Man City manager Manuel Pellegrini not concerned by Yaya Toure's form

Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini has no concerns over the form or commitment of midfielder Yaya Toure.

Transfer news: Chelsea's Jose Mourinho plays down Cristiano Ronaldo transfer talk

Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho has played down speculation about signing Cristiano Ronaldo.

Dundee boss Paul Hartley anticipates a good derby with United

Dundee boss Paul Hartley maintains his players have no fears as they prepare for the derby match with Dundee United.

Mail Box

Be Careful What You Wish For, Gooners

That's the message from a Man United fan in the mailbox. Plus, thoughts on Paul Lambert's new contract, the Alan Pardew dilemma at Newcastle and lots more...

No, Wenger IS To Blame For Failure...

The backlash to the backlash to the backlash sees Arsene Wenger getting a good kicking while we also have mails on Chelsea, Newcastle, Everton and lots more...

© 2014 British Sky Broadcasting Ltd. All Rights Reserved A Sky Sports Digital Media property