One draw, one loss and one magical win were enough to see Argentina progress to the second round of the FIFA World Cup, in large part thanks to Lionel Messi, Ever Banega and Marcos Rojo. Still unsure as to whether it was coach Jorge Sampaoli or the players themselves which picked the starting eleven against Nigeria, all that can be said is whoever picked the team ensured it was better than what we saw against Croatia. Lionel Messi cannot do it alone, no player can, and the inclusion of midfielder Ever Banega helped in Messi seeing much of the ball.
Banega, who received his first ever start at a FIFA World Cup was arguably man of the match. Looking at Twelve’s overall leaderboard, there’s no surprise he was in the top three alongside Messi.
Taking a look at the graphic below, when in attack, Banega was everywhere and it all started with the lovely assist for Lionel Messi’s goal. A ball through the air found Messi who controlled the ball in a way only Messi can, and he finished with his right foot.
The midfielder could have had a second assist via a ridiculous one touch pass which sent Angel Di Maria clear on goal, but Di Maria was taken down by a Nigerian defender which resulted in a yellow card.
However, it wasn’t just in attack where Banega was one of the stars but in defense as well. Five ball recoveries, one aerial duel won, one tackle and one clearance by Ever. In short, he was everywhere and is exactly what Lionel Messi and the team needed. A midfield who can defend but also get the ball to the strikers.
Marcos Rojo the unlikely hero
With Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain, Cristian Pavon, Maxi Meza and at one point even Angel Di Maria on the pitch, the unlikely goal scorer and hero of the night for Argentina was Marcos Rojo. The center back, who finished like a world class number 9, bailed out his team and made sure his country made it through to the next round.
Finishing second in the “Defense” leader board behind only Nicolas Otamendi, Rojo was doing it all. And the team needed someone to step up. For the longest time Lionel Messi helped carry the weight of his nation on his shoulders and in this match, he finally received the help he’s been looking for in the shape of Banega and Rojo.
No matter what happens in the next round for Argentina, the pressure of embarrassingly being eliminated in the group stages will not be there. They won’t be remembered as the generation which went out in a disaster without picking up a single win. Instead, they live to fight another day and any team which has Lionel Messi on their side will have a fighting chance to win and make the next round. It won’t be easy though, with a talented France side lying in wait on Saturday.