Argentina has the best player in the world, and yet they are possibly the worst team in the World Cup this year. Thursday’s 3-0 defeat by Croatia stunned pretty much everyone. Before the tournament started it was expected Argentina would go far and of course, it was expected the team would at least make it to the last 16! Now people are confused and I understand why. It feels like we’ve entered a parallel universe. A universe where Argentina loses to Iceland and Mexico seizes the victory over Germany. Yes, Mexico is a skilled team, but you can’t tell me you weren’t just a litttttle bit surprised when returning World Cup winners took an L from our neighbors down South.
I’m waiting for the creepy music to ensue with Rod Serling’s voice announcing, “You’ve just crossed over into the Twilight Zone.” Brazil’s recent win over Costa Rica seems to be the only normal thing that’s happened so far in the cup. But let’s get back to the point here. It is a shame that Lionel Messi most likely won’t get to hold the coveted trophy and instead possibly end his career with a deflated performance; however, despite Messi taking the blame here for the collapse of his team, he’s not the one responsible.
Early in the second half when Argentina’s goalkeeper, Willy Caballero lobbed the ball straight to Ante Rebic’s right foot and Rebic scored the first goal of the match, was that Messi’s fault? Was it Messi’s fault in the 80th minute when Croatia broke down Argentina’s defense and Luka Modric got past defender, Nicolás Otamendi and sent a ball flying into the net that Caballero noticed a little too late? Yes, Messi missed a crucial penalty against Iceland in their opening game, you can blame Messi for that; however, he can’t be blamed though for the mistakes and shortcomings of his teammates.
Messi is supposed to be an enhancement to Argentina. Greatest player in the world or not, you can’t expect one player to carry the whole team, especially when competing in a tournament consisting of the best players worldwide. Osvaldo Ardiles, a former player for Argentina and previous World Cup winner, was moved enough by Argentina’s performance against Croatia to announce this:
“Even having the best player in the world was not capable of creating a competitive team. Plan A of Sampaoli. Give the ball to Messi and wait for a miracle. If Plan A doesn’t work, Plan B. Errr. There is no plan B. Let alone plan C or D.”
Argentina’s reliance on Messi is obvious and unfortunately, not effective. In the past when his team has floundered, Messi has stepped up to the pitch. In doing so, Messi has inadvertently allowed his teammates to take a step back in these situations instead of helping him. Not only that, but Sampaoli had a strange player set-up and additionally he didn’t act fast enough when it came to making changes on the field. Therefore the 30-year-old wasn’t included in many plays and didn’t see the ball much.
As a result, the most critical player on Argentina’s team failed to have even one shot on net the whole game. This match was the straw that broke the camel’s back, or rather the weight of all Messi’s teammates on his back finally being too heavy for him to carry.