Despite scoring three goals in a knockout stage match, the World Cup dream has ended for Lionel Messi and his country. Angel Di Maria, Gabriel Mercado and Sergio Aguero all found the back of the net but a powerful France side were too much for the Albiceleste.
For the fourth time at the FIFA World Cup, Argentina coach Jorge Sampaoli set out a different eleven with a different formation altogether. This time, he benched both Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain, robbing the team of any real threat in and around the penalty area as Lionel Messi was supposed to play the false number nine role. While hindsight may be 20/20, it ended up failing.
Starting the match without a real out-and-out striker may have cost Argentina, especially when combined with the defensive fragility of the team. Lionel Messi played in the false number nine role yet despite coming on as a second half substitute, Sergio Aguero measured higher than him on the Twelve leaderboard. The Manchester City man finished second overall in Argentinean players behind Gabriel Mercado.
As we see in the graphic above, Aguero brought directness to the attack but problems at the back ultimately lead to Argentina’s demise. Nicolas Otamendi finished first in the Argentinean leaderboard in terms of defending, with five important actions in his own area. However, the team struggled to deal with France’s pace.
Kylian Mbappe ran riot on the Argentina back line. The second Marcos Rojo was cautioned and Didier Deschamps’ team were awarded a penalty, you knew it was going to be a long match.
There’s a lot of talk about whether this was Lionel Messi’s final appearance for his country and his last at the World Cup. While personally I think Lionel stays on and won’t retire from international football, if this was his final match, it was not a bad performance.
The result was not favorable but he did have two assists despite the fact he was initially sent out to play as a false number nine. But looking at Messi’s Twelve graphic below, he was anything but a false striker.
On the day, France were too much for Argentina. They were younger, they were quicker, they set out with a proper game plan and they executed it. The French tightly marked Messi in the first half and ran at the Argentina back line every chance they had. In short, most of it was exactly what Argentina were missing throughout the entire World Cup.
With Javier Mascherano and Lucas Biglia already announcing their retirements from international football, more names will surely follow. And for Argentina it means they must rebuild with a proper strategy. They certainly have the talent pool to put together a team to challenge for trophies but whether or not the proper work will be done remains to be seen.
For this generation, it’s a team which made three finals and came so close to glory. As an Argentina fan, thank you for the memories and I hope we can do it all again with a better result in four years time.