FIFA World Cup 2018: 5 things that Argentina got wrong

Some tales aren’t meant to have a good ending. They are left in the oblivion, and force people to guess about the appropriate closure to the immense storyline. Lionel Messi’s tryst with the World Cup is one of those things.

Just when one thought that Argentina had struck the opening to one of the greatest comebacks in the tournament’s history after the victory against Nigeria, the sheer quality of the French national team brought Jorge Sampaoli’s men back to the roots and reminded people once again that Lionel Messi is also just a human.

Here, I try to decipher five things that Argentina got horribly wrong in their short-lived World Cup campaign.

#5 A defence that cannot defend


Nicolas Otamendi was a crucial part of Pep Guardiola’s setup in Manchester City and much was expected of the Argentine after having a steady season at the back – helping City to a runaway championship.

However, in the white and blue of Argentina, he totally lost. At the heart of the defence, Otamendi failed to inspire as he time and again lunged into reckless challenges and mistimed his tackles.

His inability to keep his composure under pressure, coupled with a knack of losing his cool meant that he kicked the ball on an opposition player’s face twice in the whole tournament (Paul Pogba and Ivan Rakitic being the men in question).

This is a rare picture of Mbappe & the Argentina defence #FRAARG

— Mad E'Leine ‍♀️ (@badgalmaddie_) June 30, 2018

Argentina's defence in the World Cup..

— Keh Ke Peheno (@coolfunnytshirt) June 30, 2018

Marcos Rojo, for all his strong tackling and aerial skills, committed to an avoidable challenge that resulted into a penalty in the Round of 16 game, eventually, helping France to take an early lead.

Gabriel Mercado was equally hot-headed, losing his cool on the field more often than putting in appropriate challenges while Nicolas Tagliafico barring a good game against Nigeria hardly provided any attacking impetus or defensive solidity.

How would one expect a decent tournament from a team with such fragile players at the back?


#4 Forgettable start to the tournament


For any team going into a multi-nation event, it is always important to start off well to quell the nerves. A calmness behind the scenes is necessary and having secure a good start, the team looks to get rid of any anxiety that it might have coming into the tournament.

For Argentina, that never quite happened. A draw with Iceland (in which Lionel Messi missed a crucial penalty) followed by their loss against Croatia wasn’t just humiliating, it was terrifying, confidence-demolishing and sucked out any bit of self-belief from the Argentine players.

After having been outplayed against Croatia, it was always going to be difficult for them to regroup and restructure, but experienced players like Messi and Javier Mascherano helped them do that for a short while.

One can’t ignore the fact that had Argentina secured a victory over Iceland at least, the momentum would have been very much in their favour for the rest of the matches.

Moreover, Messi’s failed spot-kick meant that the pressure was on him from the very beginning, something that he could have avoided had he converted that into a goal. Alas, Messi succumbed to it, and eventually, the complete Argentine team did so too.


#3 Devoid of passion and intent


It is not as if a mediocre team could not make it further into the tournament. Numerous times over the years, we have seen underdogs punch above their weights by showing commitment, passion and a strong mentality on the pitch.

Moreover, Argentina aren’t any underdogs to be honest. They should have made it further into the tournament if the players would have applied their brains.

Against an insanely talented Croatian midfield, Argentina decided to sit back and give the likes of Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic space to operate rather than pressing. Lionel Messi, too, showed failed to inspire as his lack of movement off the ball against Croatia was eye-catching.

Their inability to defend or attack in cohesion with each other was clearly on display, and neither did the Argentine team press the opponent collectively. It always looked like a bunch of individuals being put to play together.


#2 Leo Messi’s poor leadership


This topic is often discussed quite a lot, and rightfully so. With the innate ability and talent that Messi has by his side, he most definitely has not been someone who could lead the national team well.

There is a lot of difference between vocal leaders who lead by example, and star players being shoehorned into the role. Messi cut an isolated figure against Iceland, and was stressed beyond limit against Croatia.

From a humanitarian perspective, I can understand what he was going through. However, to lead your nation in the biggest competition of world football is no small responsibility, and Messi’s demeanour during these games certainly did not help the other fringe players to rise up the bar of their performances.

He exited the ground almost instantly against Iceland, and was incredibly worried during the national anthem against Croatia. Messi didn’t press the opponents into losing the ball, and his lackluster off the ball movement often meant that the tempo of the game dropped down and the other players felt the pressure along with him.

That is exactly what a great player shouldn’t have let to be done.

The talisman is expected to soak up the pressure from his teammates and to let them play with freedom whilst taking extra responsibility upon himself. This surely didn’t happen, and the contrast in the leadership aspect between him and Cristiano Ronaldo has never been clearer.


#1 The biggest reason of them all: Jorge Sampaoli

Jorge Sampaoli:
4 games at this World Cup. 4 different lineups. 4 different systems. Played Dybala for 20 minutes. Do you even have a brain if you sub on a nobody like Meza instead of a player like Dybala when you need a goal in a knockout game. Fucking clueless coach.

— Messi World (@MessiWorId) June 30, 2018

Surely, there cannot be another person more accountable for Argentina’s disastrous tournament than Jorge Sampaoli. Ahead of his tenure with this national team, his reputation as a manager was immense.

Right now, not anyone with their senses working properly would call Sampaoli a good coach. In a tournament when he got his tactics horribly wrong, not just once, but consistently, Argentina have the whole right to blame him for their failure.

Jorge Sampaoli:

– Prepared for the World Cup with Lo Celso, then never used him at the actual competition.

-Set up Messi as a “false 9”, but he never actually received the ball with options on the wings.

The biggest coaching farce in years.

— Lucas (@lucasammr) June 30, 2018

Paulo Dyaba got to play just 20 minutes in the whole tournament, Messi started as a false nine in a team with no genuine strikers, the defence played with a high backline (and to begin with – three at the back) and fullbacks who failed to make any real impact going forwards.

Sampaoli made horrible substitutions, played with no tactical setup whatsoever and relied on Lionel Messi to bail the team out every single time. Damn, who made this man the manager?

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