With just one point from two group games, Jorge Sampaoli’s team is now on the brink of elimination. What’s done is done. But looking back to just a few weeks before the tournament, we may find that the seeds of the tragedy have already been sown, reports Xinhua news agency.
High hopes were pinned on Mauro Icardi, 25, to help Argentina when he brought back Serie A side Inter Milan into the Champions League after six seasons, but his fantastic attacking ability was denied by Sampaoli.
Icardi was included in Sampaoli’s preliminary list of 35 players announced on May 14. The Inter captain and the league’s best striker scored 29 goals in the Serie A.
However, Sampaoli’s final choice of not bringing Icardi to Russia was based on “players that can do many functions to give us different characteristics,” said the coach in a press conference before the tournament kicked off.
Facing the stronger and taller defenders from Iceland and Croatia, neither Lionel Messi nor Sergio Aguero could create a good chance by themselves.
The Argentine wingers have tried their best to keep crossing over, but the world-class strikers failed to bring down the rivals’ defence.
With Icardi on the field, the situation might be very different.
“Inside the penalty area, Icardi has no equal on a global scale. When a cross arrives, he is deadly. If you want to build moves with central passing, then Gonzalo Higuain or Sergio Aguero are more suited, but if you do like Inter with tons of crosses flung into the box, where are you going to get anyone better than Icardi?” Argentine legend Hernán Jorge Crespo said.
Sampaoli’s four attackers formation turned out to be incompatible with Argentina’s original system. Without Icardi, the team couldn’t realise Sampaoli’s intention to make effective attacks. To make things worse, the team couldn’t defend their goal with the absence of another key player.
Sergio Romero injured his knee last month in the run-up to the tournament. The No.1 Argentine goalkeeper said he could recover before the World Cup, but the team went without him.
When Willy Caballero’s poor performance contributed the first blood to his opponent on Thursday, Romero was missed by all Argentine fans.
The last straw seemingly happened to be the core of the team — Lionel Messi — who has been considered as the king to bring his people to victory. However, football is not a one-man game. It is probably the team’s awe of him that has torn the team apart.
When Messi lost a penalty chance in Argentina’s 1-1 draw with Iceland, he was reportedly too frustrated to talk to anyone after that match.
To cheer him up, the Argentina Football Association invited Messi’s wife Antonella Rocuzzo to Russia to console the team’s No.1 star. However, his overwhelming emotions kept him from carrying out his duties as a captain to encourage his teammates who were just as upset as he was.
Crespo once told the Italian media that Icardi couldn’t be named on the final 23-men list because the forward isn’t Messi’s friend. Whether it is true or not, the 2014 World Cup runners-up seem to have locker room problems.
When the team fell behind 1-0 on Thursday, few midfielders ran back to deal with Croatian counter-attacks. Instead, players were witnessed by the huge audience complaining about their teammates’ faults on the field. A team falling apart will inevitably fall from the top.
There is still a shred of hope for Messi’s World Cup dream. Nigeria defeated Iceland 2-0 Friday in the second round of group games, raising a slim possibility of Argentina entering the elimination period.
If Messi wants to lead his team to advance to the last 16, they must smash Nigeria in its third group match first. The two Nigerian players John Obi Mikel and Odion Ighalo, who play in the Chinese Super League, are good at creating counter-attacks.
It would also be more favorable for Argentina if Croatia stays unbeaten against Iceland in the third round of group matches.