FIFA WC Lionel Messi

Published on June 16th, 2018 | by Peter Coates

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5 lessons learned from Argentina’s deep freeze against Iceland

🕓 Reading time: 3 minutes

Everything that could have gone wrong for Argentina did so, while Iceland excelled – here’s 5 lessons learned from our man in a gloomy Buenos Aires

The points may have been shared but the reactions at the final whistle told the story. Argentina’s recent frustrations continued with two points certainly dropped while World Cup debutants Iceland celebrated a famous draw.

Messi reminds us he is human

Let’s get it out the way straight away because the game’s biggest talking point was undoubtedly Lionel Messi’s missed penalty.

The world’s best player has now missed four of the last seven penalties he’s taken for Barcelona and Argentina combined and with Cristiano Ronaldo’s heroics for Portugal a day earlier, Messi’s failure was laid bare.

Penalty miss aside, Argentina’s dependence was as clear as ever with Messi dropping deep for the ball and Iceland swarming around him.

No time to dwell as Messi remains central to everything that Argentina do and if they are to get results against Croatia and Nigeria, their captain will be vital.

Iceland bring their Euros spirit

While many in Argentina might be surprised by the result, anyone that witnessed Iceland’s historic run to the European Championship quarter final in 2016 won’t be.

Heimir Hallgrímsson’s side were just as they were then – organised, compact, physical, resolute and a threat on the counter.

That always looked like a recipe that could cause Argentina problems and so it proved. Alfred Finnbogason’s goal, a first at the World Cup for the tiny nation, was reward for a couple of earlier scares to Argentina’s frail backline. 

A 1-1 draw with Portugal is how Iceland started the Euros and after topping their World Cup qualifying group, no one will enjoy playing the Nordic nation.

Sampaoli’s compromised side

After the dour defensive football of Edgardo Bauza, Argentina had hoped Jorge Sampaoli would allow the team off the leash. Rest assured that the fiery coach would like nothing more than to line up with an intense, high-pressing 3-3-3-1 that attacked with real pace and vigour.

However, this Argentina side is no team of Sampaoli.

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The three-man defence was quickly retired after realising how slow the defensive options were and by his own admission this week, the midfield of Mascherano and Biglia is basically due to not having the time to drill the likes of Giovani Lo Celso on their defensive duties.

The result of such compromise? Argentina for the large part are still as predictable and dependent on Messi as ever.

Defensive concerns

High on the list of non-surprises was Argentina’s defensive frailties. Croatia and Nigeria will be licking their lips at the prospect of testing Sampaoli’s suspect backline.

Marcos Rojo coming in for Nicolás Otamendi’s more usual partner, Federico Fazio, looked an odd choice and the Manchester United defender looked every inch a guy, who at the best times is an erratic player but also one who missed most of the season.

And in goal, Willy Caballero proved just why Sergio Romero’s injury was a blow. Deeply unconvincing at crosses, if Sampaoli sticks with the veteran goalkeepeer, opposition sides will test that further.

Changes for Croatia

The second half introductions of Ever Banega and Cristian Pavón lifted Argentina and will hopefully give Sampaoli the impetus to make those changes for the Croatia match on Thursday.

Banega or Lo Celso replacing one of either Javier Mascherano or Lucas Biglia provides a more incisive passer and hopefully a better link with Lionel Messi, while the electrifying Pavón showed more in ten minutes than Angel Di María managed in 75.

Defensively the options aren’t overwhelming but Federico Fazio will be pushing for a recall and River Plate goalkeeper Franco Armani may finally get his chance ahead of Willy Caballero.

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About the Author

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Peter is a British football writer living in Buenos Aires, who specialises on Argentine football. His passion for the game in South America took him to Argentina in 2011 and aside from starting his own site 'Golazo Argentino', he has covered the national side for The Independent and acts as WhoScored's expert on the Primera División.



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