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FIFA World Cup 2018: Argentina look like an assortment of players, not a team

Argentina looked delightful in the first half of their final FIFA World Cup 2018 group game but were back to being disjointed in the second half, writes Bhaichung Bhutia.

football Updated: Jun 28, 2018 09:32 IST
Bhaichung Bhutia
Bhaichung Bhutia
Hindustan Times
Argentina football team,FIFA World Cup 2018,Lionel Messi
Lionel Messi (C) competes for the ball during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Group D match between Nigeria and Argentina at the Saint Petersburg Stadium in Saint Petersburg on June 26, 2018. (AFP)

A divine pass dropped from above after which football’s God on earth took over. That raking ball from Ever Banega merely deepened the mystery around why he isn’t a regular starter in Jorge Sampaoli’s set-up but it still needed the brilliance of Lionel Messi to control it and fire home with his weaker foot.

With his right foot, Messi showed the kind of control most players may not have on the foot that helps pay their bills but why am I not surprised.

In the first half, Argentina pressed, persevered and they had Messi having his best time on the pitch since coming to Russia.

And the move for the goal showed the sort of swift transition from back to front that Argentina hadn’t produced so far.

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Disjointed against Croatia, they looked delightful at times. The desperation of the first two games had been replaced by a hunger to succeed.

But after Javier Mascherano conceded a penalty that was really about not being able to rid himself of bad habits in the time of VAR, Argentina were back to being their disappointing selves.

That is why I remain skeptical about their chances against France. For the most part of three games they have looked like an assortment of skilful players and not a team.

It is perhaps an indication of how deep-seated Argentina’s problems are. I read that at 30 years and 189 days, this was Argentina’s oldest squad in World Cup history. They looked that after Nigeria equalised.

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Mascherano looked like a player who had the right ideas but not the legs to execute them. He scrapped, he had blood streaking down his cheeks, but he is simply not the player he was.

Players look a shadow of themselves when they are tiring and under enormous pressure. Angel di Maria failed to control a routine pass and conceded a throw as did Nicolas Tagliafico, and mispasses started piling in the middle.

I also couldn’t figure out why Gonzalo Higuain started in place of Sergio Aguero and it has nothing to do with another miss from him that reminded me of those that may have cost Argentina a World Cup and a Copa America.

So, if Argentina have the same 11 against France, I feel something has finally got to give. France haven’t flourished but they have looked more of a team than Argentina and they have a younger group of players.

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Like Brazil in the World Cup they hosted, this Argentina team needs more than repairs.

First Published: Jun 28, 2018 09:31 IST