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

Invincible Chelsea? It's Not So Far-Fetched...

5 comments

Cesc Fabregas laughed off suggestions that Chelsea could emulate that Arsenal side but Adam Bate is not so sure it's a joke - they really could pull this off..

No Defence For Liverpool Sloppiness

39 comments

Liverpool's defending again undermined any potential success against Real Madrid at Anfield. They weren't expected to win, but an improvement on Sunday would have been good...

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

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

e doesn't need a caoch. He needs a bus. A bloody big one, that he can park across the goal line. And when he gets one, he can do us a favour and let us know where we can buy one from as well.

HarryBoulton
Rodgers: No defence coach

Y

ou are wrong Per, thats the right way the play. Its everyone elses' fault that it doesnt work.

delboy
Mertesacker urges style change

A

s it's panto season coming soon, let me be the first Oh yes you do

munchie
Rodgers: No defence coach

Latest Photos

Footer 365

La Liga: Barcelona's Luis Suarez adamant biting days are behind him ahead of El Clasico return against Real Madrid

Barcelona's Luis Suarez is adamant his biting days are behind him as he returns from a four-month ban against Real Madrid.

Transfer news: Van Gaal hints former Barcelona keeper Valdes could stay at Manchester United

Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal has refused to rule out the possibility of signing goalkeeper Victor Valdes.

Premier League: Ronald Koeman looking at European challenge sparked by Dusan Tadic

Ronald Koeman believes Dusan Tadic can spark Southampton into a challenge for Champions League football next season.

Mail Box

'Goals Like That Can Make You Pregnant'

Those being sniffy about Erik Lamela's rabona are given short shrift in the afternoon mailbox, where criticism of Brendan Rodgers is smashed out of the park...

Does David De Gea Need Competition?

It would certainly be a good idea to give Victor Valdes a contract, while we have more mails on Brendan Rodgers, Arsene Wenger, the rabona and mailbox gripes...

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