One-trick ponies with­out Messi

Ar­gentina hu­mil­i­ated in 6-1 rout by Spain as skip­per watches on

The New Age (Northern Cape) - - SPORT -

AR­GENTINA’S Lionel Messi looked on from the stands for as long as he could, but with 10 min­utes re­main­ing he had seen enough.

Cam­eras cap­tured the in­jured cap­tain leav­ing his seat, pre­sum­ably to head for the dress­ing room to con­sole his dis­traught team­mates, but the im­age was sym­bolic as his hap­less team were hu­mil­i­ated 6-1 by a ram­pag­ing Spain side.

“They’ve re­ally given us a slap in the face,” Ar­gentina coach Jorge Sam­paoli said of the hu­mil­i­at­ing World Cup warmup de­feat in his post-match news con­fer­ence.

“I feel bad for the boys, I take the re­spon­si­bil­ity. In the se­cond half we didn’t have bal­ance or so­lid­ity and we were all at sea.”

Ar­gentina may have swept Italy aside 2-0 on Fri­day with­out Messi, who has a mus­cle in­jury, but con­text is re­quired given that the Ital­ians failed to reach the World Cup for the first time since 1958 af­ter a 1­0 play­off de­feat by Swe­den.

Granted, there was no An­gel di Maria or Ser­gio Aguero for Ar­gentina on Tues­day ei­ther but when it came to the crunch, the play­ers wilted. Too of­ten they rely on their Messi “get out of jail” card.

It was Messi who fired a hat­trick in their fi­nal qual­i­fier against Ecuador, af­ter they went 1­0 down in­side the first minute, to se­cure their spot at the World Cup in Rus­sia.

With­out him against top level op­po­si­tion in Madrid, Ar­gentina wilted and to de­scribe their de­fend­ing as hap­haz­ard is gen­er­ous.

Sam­paoli may have a squad that al­lows him the lux­ury of leav­ing the likes of for­wards Mauro Icardi and Paulo Dy­bala at home but on the other hand nei­ther of their goal­keep­ers, Ser­gio Romero or Willy Ca­ballero, play reg­u­larly for their clubs.

“Ar­gentina is go­ing to be liv­ing in torment from now un­til the World Cup,” for­mer in­ter­na­tional Jorge Val­dano said on Span­ish ra­dio sta­tion Onda Cero.

“Messi’s the only rea­son that any­one is even giv­ing Ar­gentina a sliver of hope of win­ning the World Cup. (Striker) Gon­zalo Higuain is a marked man in Ar­gentina and I wouldn’t like to be in Sam­paoli’s shoes ei­ther.”

Many pun­dits sug­gest Messi can­not be con­sid­ered a truly great player un­til he achieves some­thing with Ar­gentina.

How­ever, judg­ing by Tues­day’s per­for­mance he has al­ready achieved a lot in help­ing Ar­gentina reach the fi­nals.

How far they go in Rus­sia will surely be dic­tated by the form and fit­ness of the Barcelona for­ward as they pre­pare to face Ice­land, Croa­tia and Nige­ria in the group stage. – Reuters

PIC­TURE: AFP

TAL­IS­MAN: Ar­gentina cap­tain Lionel Messi.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.