Certainly, Paraguay are no pushovers in world football. If they cannot threaten you with attacking football, then, they would build a wall – solid enough – to deny you from scoring and neutralize your aggressive intent. As a matter of fact, this has been their style of play for many years and against Argentina, they took the pitch with a similar intent.
At the Estadio Alberto Jose Armando, Argentina led by Lionel Messi took the pitch to bag full points and continue their brilliant winning streak. Lionel Scaloni stuck to his 3-4-3 formation with Lionel Messi and Ocampos lying behind Lautaro Martinez to provide the necessary fuels for the striker.
Gonzalez, Exequiel Palacios, Leandro Paredes and De Paul parked at the center of the pitch that were backed up by Otamendi, Lucas Martinez and Montiel.
Despite the defensive weaknesses, it was a brilliant line-up and obviously, they were expected to break down the Paraguayan resistance.
The Paraguayan coach, Eduardo Berizzo decided not to play safe rather pushes his men forward. He had selected a defensive line of four centre-backs, but that did not mean he wanted to sit deep. His aim was to defend on the front foot, proactively, breaking up Argentina’s moves far from goal.
And this accounted for the opening goal.
Miguel Almiron’s strong run exposed the lack of pace and quality at the back of Argentina.
The lack of quality at the back put pressure on Paredes, whose game is more suited to playmaking rather than shielding the defence.
Thus, when Almiron picked up possession close to the left touchline, he knew what to do with the back three – scripted a diagonal beeline toward the heart of the defence.
Paredes was not protecting the space, and Almiron won his duel against Martinez Quarta, who, off-balance, caught Almiron with a trailing leg. Angel Romero slotted home the penalty.
That goal seemed to have reignited Argentina, who started to enjoy more possession whereas Paraguay found it tough to link-up between their ragged defence and attacking intent upfront.
Romero clattered into Palacios and was forced to leave the field before half an hour had passed.
On came Giovani Lo Celso, whose left foot and forward movement gave Argentina more momentum.
Argentina started to play with the Paraguayan defence and before long they were level.
Lo Celso took a corner from the left.
Nico Gonzalez had come into the team at the last moment, improvised as a left-back when Nico Tagliafico proved unfit, and his run from deep was not picked up.
He rose above the Paraguay defence to head home and level the scoreline.
The equaliser gave Argentina a boost and Rodrigo De Paul’s long-range drive forced a save from Paraguay goalkeeper Antony Silva on the stroke of half-time.
In the second half, Argentina tightened the screw.
Lautaro Martinez and Paraguay defender Gustavo Gomez squandered good chances shortly after half-time before Argentina thought they had the lead.
Messi had to step up.
Messi, right now 34-year-old, has lost the cutting edge and is not as fit as Cristiano Ronaldo. He relies more on depth touches rather than pace amalgamated with dribbling skills. As he turns and spins he now finds it harder to burst away from his markers, and there were many times against Paraguay when he lost possession.
Thus, the depth touches and building up partnerships with his fellow attacker highlighted his game and also it led to that goal, which was denied by VAR.
After a brilliant exchange with Lo Celso, who was the most effective partner of Messi other than Ocampos, who had a bad night and was replaced by Angel Di Maria.
A well-controlled possession followed by a sudden change of rhythm and a mass arrival in the opposing saw Paredes played the key ball, opening out the field with a long pass to Gonzalez down the left.
He squared inside for Lo Celso, whose clever pullback was met by Messi with a side-foot shot that beat the keeper diving to his right.
But the goal was denied by VAR and Messi went close in the 72nd minute, Silva tipping his free-kick onto the crossbar after Lo Celso was fouled as Argentina continued to push, but they were unable to find a winner.
Clearly, Argentina were denied by VAR and it did not satisfy Scaloni at all.
Scaloni said after the match, “I think that in some way it is necessary to seek to unify the issue of the VAR,” Scaloni told a news conference. “I am not talking in good or bad faith, but to unify criteria.”
Regarding a foul on Palacios, Scaloni added, “We are left without a player for several days or months. The knock was there and VAR didn’t review it.”
“In the first 15 minutes, the team did not go well. After the penalty I think it was all ours, honestly,” he said. “The team reacted, created situations, did what it had to do. We achieved a draw.
“We are leaving with a bittersweet taste because Argentina did everything to win. In the second half, we put the rivals behind. We must also value the attitude of the team, which always believed in achieving victory.”
The hierarchy of Football should rethink whether VAR is needed in football or not. Any kind of new technologies or ideas are always welcome in sports, but the flawed ones should not continue and so far, VAR has failed to deliver and teams are suffering for this.