It’s hard to deny that the this year’s World Cup tournament has been nothing but delightful for many of the fans that made the trip to Russia. We bore witness to a very different set of semi-finalists compared to the those tipped by many FIFA 2018 pundits.
While Germany’s shockingly disappointing exit in the group stages is the most surprising result of the tournament, Argentina’s zombie-like showings come in at a close second.
Picture this if you don’t get my logic: you have one of the best footballers in the world leading your team in the attack. He is surrounded by equally capable attackers that have built their names in Europe’s biggest stages. The midfield and defence are also of the same quality.
However, they barely got out of the group stage and endured an embarrassing defeat to Croatia. Moreover, they were humiliated by World Cup finalists France in what was a lopsided affair.
It’s easy to point fingers and blame everything on Lionel Messi. However, is it really his sole fault that Argentina have stumbled out of the World Cup in such an embarrassing fashion?
He’s Not Maradona
This is an awkward comparison, but I can’t help but compare Lionel Messi’s relationship with Argentina to that of a great guy trying to get the girl of his dreams but just fluffs up every opportunity he has in winning her heart.
Messi has already established himself as one of the greatest footballers in the history of the sport. He has won a lot of silverware with the only club he has ever played for, scoring 383 goals in 418 club appearances in the Spanish La Liga.
He has also done a great service for Argentina, bagging 67 goals in 124 caps. However, he has always failed to show up and lead Argentina when it matters most. His inability to lead Argentina to the Promised Land was glaring during the 2014 World Cup final and the current tournament.
During their draw against Iceland, he struggled to do anything with the ball as three to four Iceland shirts were all up in his collar. He was also rendered useless during their 3-0 defeat against Croatia. While he managed to put Argentina through with a goal, he failed to change their fate when France sent them home at the start of the knockout stages.
It would have been easy for Argentines to burn every Messi shirt they have, but the Hand of God himself absolved Messi of his sins.
“They wanted Messi to solve everything,” Diego Maradona said.
“Leo got involved in the game, passed the ball to Biglia or Enzo Perez but got a wheelbarrow of cobblestones in return.”
Recent articles angle Messi playing General Manager, reportedly asking gaffer Jorge Sampaoli to exclude two players from the team. If the allegations are true, then Messi could justifiably receive some of the abuse he got.
Sure, he’s not Maradona. However, they cannot put him on the stake and tell him that they haven’t done anything. He gave his all for La Albiceleste. Putting all the blame on him when his team didn’t support him enough is an injustice. It is treason.
A Comedy of Errors
You can blame Messi for a huge chunk of Argentina’s failures this year, sure, but you cannot simply brush aside the fact that Sampaoli and the rest of the squad had an issue in performing during this World Cup.
Personally, I think their goalkeeping pool was a big factor. When Sergio Romero went down due to an injury, 36-year-old Willy Caballero had to step in. The Chelsea keeper had a terrible outing the World Cup. He is most remembered for the howlers he made against Croatia.
While Franco Armani did a better job than Caballero, his efforts didn’t make up for the lack of enthusiasm throughout the pitch. Nicolas Otamendi and Javier Mascherano were letting opponents in like guests to a dinner party. The midfield struggled to connect between the attack and the defence. The forwards struggled to score. Paulo Dybala only saw 22 minutes of action.
Moreover, Jorge Sampaoli had the most bizarre tactic for the World Cup: the ball barely touched the feet of the best player in his squad. Messi made some great passes every now and then, but it cannot be denied their No 10 saw little time with the ball.
Team chemistry and selection issues could be blamed for all of these. Messi agreed with Dybala and claimed that their styles were too similar. The high age median could also be considered as a reason for their lack of enthusiasm.
However, they are professional footballers. In fact, they are some of the best in the world. They are expected to play through issues and perform. us and many more FIFA 2018 betting circles saw them as favourites to make a deep run in the tournament.
The mere fact that they laboured hard to barely get out of the group stage is unacceptable.
What’s Next for Argentina?
Given how Argentina played like exhausted sods on the way to those disappointing FIFA 2018 results, you would think that Sampaoli was axed. You couldn’t be more wrong.
He stays on as Argentina coach despite the outrageously poor way he utilised Messi’s talents. However, this also points to something that would happen in the next couple of months. I don’t think many will like this.
Given the fact that Sampaoli stays, this may be the last we see of Lionel Messi playing in the World Cup for Argentina. Dybala plays the same way as Messi and is still 24, making him eligible for two more World Cups.
There’s also the tiny issue about Messi’s age: the Barcelona man will be 35 by the 2022 World Cup. We’re not sure if he will still even be playing for Barcelona by then, so it’s sensible (though painful) that they will let go of their No 10 and pass it on to Dybala.
Messi fans better prepare their tissues and cry it out if this is the last time they’ll see their idol on the world stage.
He tried and failed. I think he deserves to rest after so much heartbreak.
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