2018 World Cup: The Downfall of La Albiceleste

Albiceleste Messi Argentina

By Jaimer Dela Cruz

We’ve seen them steamroll past the competition back in 2014. We saw them rise to the occasion and set up a date with Germany in the FIFA World Cup 2014 Final in Brazil. Amidst of all the experience they gathered back then, Argentina seems to be on the way out of the group stages in Russia.

The main question now is what’s happening with La Albiceleste? What’s going on with the 2014 World Cup runners-up? We look into the reasons why they are underperforming and what can they do in their final game to make it past the group stages.

1) Defensive Breakdown

A team who can defend is a team who can win. This has been the case for their current tormentors Croatia. Vatreni (The Blazers: Croatia’s moniker) turned the game into a fight as they pressed on the opposition’s defence making them commit mistakes and eventually piled on it. I’ve never seen Argentina this disorganised in defence before and they’ve surely paid for the price. Even goalkeeper Willy Caballero made a blunder himself that started the scoring party for Luka Modric and company.

In their first game against minnows Iceland, a defensive blunder also cost them the win as they failed to defend the counterattack of the Vikings which led to Alfred Finnbogason pouncing on the rebound. The defensive line also didn’t show any shape and it looked like they just don’t know where they should position themselves.

2) Midfielders go M.I.A.

A defensive breakdown can be a cause of a quick counter but most of the time, it can be caused by a midfield blunder. In their first game against Iceland, Argentina didn’t seem to be in a shape to create chances in the midfield to open up their strikers for a shot on goal.

Even Javier Mascherano needed to accompany them in middle of the park just to provide the balls for Sergio Aguero or Lionel Messi. Problem is, once he goes up in midfield, it would take some time for him to get back to defending. By the time he goes back, an Icelandic player already is in front of him off to make a break.

Oftentimes, we saw Messi going down the midfield from the wings just to get the ball, dribble past two or three defenders before seeing himself lose possession before even reaching the box. As instrumental as he can be, he wasn’t be able to create his own chances for the team as he’s tightly marked by the opposition.

They might have scored a goal themselves but that didn’t help their side to show their dominance even if they had the ball most of the times. Argentina may look dominant as they may have a lot of time with the ball but if they cannot convert, they cannot win. It’s as simple as that.

In their second game against Croatia, it seemed like the life has been sucked out of them as the difference between their midfielders and the masterclass of Ivan Rakitic and Modric had been night and day.

3) Where’s Lionel?

It’s the second match in the World Cup, your country needs you to show up and make something happen as your counterpart in Portugal wearing the Number 7 had been scoring screamers since the start of the tournament but here you are, struggling to take a shot, open up and deliver. That’s Lionel Messi’s predicament at the moment

Messi has been the talisman for La Albiceleste for the longest time possible since he debuted for the senior team. Being dubbed as the heir to Diego Maradona’s throne, people are expecting for him to show up in a match where he’s mostly needed. In the end, he’s been having troubles in making himself visible and deliver for his nation. Credit to the oppositions’ defence, they’ve been marking him like crazy which made it even harder for him to show his might.

In their first game against Iceland, Messi showed a glimpse of magic as he tried to break away from the defence through his majestic dribbling skills, but cannot convert or even take a shot. A golden opportunity was shown to him to step up and score for his nation but failed to do so.

Maxi Meza was taken down inside the box and the referee didn’t hesitate to point to the spot for a penalty kick. Up stepped the man of the moment. Messi steadied himself over the ball, Hannes Halldorsson gave him the eyes, Messi took the shot and Halldorsson didn’t even think twice on where he will dive to get the ball and get to the ball, he did! A shocking moment for Argentina and an unbelievable feat for Iceland was achieved.

Looking to fix stuff up in their second game, Messi didn’t seem to be instrumental the whole game as he only showed some glimmer of chances and a sneak peek of his dribbling. Are we seeing the end of an era or will we see him come back stronger against Nigeria?

Overall, if they want to progress to the next round, not only they would need to win but they need to do it in a convincing manner. Nigeria just won against Iceland, so they need to win against the Super Eagles and they have to do it in a dominating fashion to get a better goal difference.

It’s now or never.