It happened in the Copa America, it happened again in the 2014 World Cup qualifiers. Argentina, a national team in somewhat of a crisis for quite a few years now, failed to beat Bolivia at home, with Lionel Messi looking like a fade version of the Barcelona star.
Another game without a win, following their 1-0 loss at Venezuela, and Argentina face the same problems that have been troubling them since the 2010 World Cup. They were unlucky early on as Higuain’s opening goal was disqualified as the referee, for some reason, didn’t give him the advantage after Messi was fouled in the build up.
Javier Pastore showed flashes, just flashes, of his immense talent, missing a few hair raising opportunities in the first half and later on, when Argentina were pushing to somehow break the Bolivian defense.
Still, despite all of Argentina’s pressure, it was a very impressive Marcelo Moreno goal that stunned the home fans.
Argentina got their equalizer a minute later, with Ezquiel Lavezzi coming in a substitute and getting the deserved 1-1 goal.
It’s hard to explain the difference between Messi’s ability when playing for Barcelona and playing for Argentina. Yes, there’s the difference in talent surrounding him, and the different styles he seems unable to adjust to. Argentina, despite Pastore and Sosa (who should have been starting), there are no midfielders to create from the middle. Messi has to build things up again and again.
But more than that, it’s the shackles on his legs. His slumping form, the lowered shoulders. The pressure of leading Argentina to something great, of following in the footsteps of Maradona and Kempes is burying him on the pitch. Having everyone else just stand out of the way as he tries to make things happen on his own isn’t helping.
Last five minutes were an odd appearance. Messi stopped being involved. He just stood in his position, 25 meters from goal, surrounded by four Bolivian players, who seem to be writing a book on how to stop Messi, and not moving. Maybe giving up, maybe frustrated. But Messi wasn’t once involved in the Argentina attack during the closing minutes.
Another tournament, and Argentina, despite the Brazilian side missing from the qualifying tournament, will struggle again to make it through. They will, but it’s hard to see them doing it as the best side in the continent. Right now Uruguay and maybe even Chile look like better teams. And the tough road games haven’t even arrived yet.