Chennai: Whether it is South America or Eastern Europe, there is no end in sight to Argentina’s World Cup woes as the Albiceleste took a disastrous step towards leaving Russia much earlier than many had expected. Even the most ardent fan of Argentina would not have found a positive from their team’s 3-0 mauling at the hands of Croatia on Thursday. The performance was so pedestrian that it would have been better had they not qualified for the World Cup like Italy and the Netherlands. Even if Argentina survive the group stage in Russia miraculously, they may not last longer.
Here is the lowdown on Argentina’s plight
1 First of all, neutral fans, especially those in India, must realise that Argentina aren’t a world-beating team. That’s why they haven’t been able to win a senior title since the 1993 Copa America. The last time Argentina played well in a crucial match was the 1986 World Cup final. In the Croatia match, Argentina didn’t have anything resembling a strategy. They plodded on in the vain hope of getting a goal from somewhere.
2 Not grooming a creative midfielder since Juan Roman Riquelme is Argentina’s biggest blunder. Why PSG’s classy Javier Pastore has not got his fare share of opportunities would always remain a mystery. The current squad doesn’t have a midfielder who can hold a candle to Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic, Andres Iniesta, Eden Hazard and Kevin de Bruyne. Without an extraordinary midfielder, even a couple of Messis can’t win a team the World Cup.
3 Argentina coach Jorge Sampaoli’s decision to play three in the back line was diabolical. Nothing gives a team more defensive solidity than four players at the back. Deploying three is fashionable but it is never effective. Choosing a 36-year-old Willy Caballero as goalie was another blunder of Sampaoli. Caballero, a bundle of nerves throughout, isn’t cut out for the World Cup. Paulo Dybala could have come earlier and Sergio Aguero could have stayed longer on the pitch.
4 Lionel Messi played as if he had been asked to do so at gunpoint. His heart wasn’t there. He showed no inclination to seize the initiative. At times, he didn’t seem to want the ball at all. Messi was captain only in name because there was no leadership on the field. Maybe he needs to be surrounded by a world-class cast, like he is at Barcelona, to give his best. That’s why he is no Maradona.
5 Argentina has a piece of glass for mental strength. They reacted to Croatia’s opener in the 53rd minute as if the goal had been scored with the last kick of the match. Sampaoli admitted later: “The team were broken emotionally after the goal.” No wonder Messi and co. have lost three finals in the last four years including the 2014 World Cup.