How Argentina, Messi got it right in the second half

  • Dhiman Sarkar, Hindustan Times, Rio de Janeiro
  • Updated: Jun 18, 2014 12:16 IST

If Argentina are to go far in this World Cup - and they certainly have the team to do that - it will have to happen with the formation used in the second half. This team, rightly, centres its attacking options around the player many think is the best in the planet and that works best when Lionel Messi is playing behind the strikers.

The introduction of Gonzalo Higuain gave Messi the kind of room to manoeuvre he didn’t have in the entire first half against Bosnia-Herzegovina. More importantly, it helped Messi end an eight-year wait for a World Cup and what a goal that was too! He will now approach the remaining games with a lot more confidence and that can only augur well for Argentina and Messi fans worldwide. Messi could have scored again deep in stoppage time but hit the side-netting.

For most of the first half, he and Sergio Aguero were left alone up the park because Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella started with five defenders. The thing about football is that often what you do at one end of the pitch influences how the game would go at the other end. And it didn’t go well for Argentina at all in the first 45 minutes.

That was because neither Pablo Zabaleta nor Marcos Rojo, the defenders expected to add width to Argentina’s attack, could find the space needed on the flanks. Moreover, with Rojo trying to gallop down the left, Angel di Maria, who operates best in space in that area, had to drift inside and that’s not where the Real Madrid stalwart usually likes to be. Also, despite a five-man defence, Argentina looked wobbly at the back and had it not been for goalkeeper Sergio Romero, the lead through a fortuitous self-goal may not have been protected at half-time.

It changed totally in the second half. Sabella abandoned his 5-3-2 formation, something that he has tended to use in away games during the South American qualifiers, and opted to play 4-3-3 with Messi operating behind Aguero and Higuain. It is the position he is most comfortable in and it showed. From being a forlorn figure in the first 45 minutes, Messi was in the thick of things for most of the second when Argentina moved forward.

He threaded down the middle once before scoring and once after, showing the kind of form he didn’t as the European club season wound to a close.
Also Fernando Gago coming on as part of a half-time double substitution made Argentina look a lot more soild than they were in the first half when Javier Mascherano was often left with having too much to do in midfield.

Yes, the inner defence isn’t perfect but that was known all along. So long as Sabella doesn’t sacrifice his team’s greatest asset --- their attacking ability --- for trying to protect his goal, Argentina should do well in this competition. The players have the confidence in their abilities, especially while going forward. Hopefully this win will make the coach see that.

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