Here we go again. Lionel Messi leaving the comforts of the pressures of leading Barcelona with the help of the most talented players in the world and enters the pressure cooker that is playing for Argentina in the world cup qualifiers, this time playing against possibly the best team in South America, Uruguay.
In all, it’s a very tough week for Argentina in the qualifiers – First the match against Uruguay, the best offensive team along with Argentina, scoring 15 goals each up until now, and a few days later a visit to Chile. There are no easy matches in the qualifying tournament, as their most recent draw in Peru proved once again, but it looks like Argentina, and especially Messi, are handling the pressures and expectations a bit better than four years ago with Diego Maradona.
I lived through some sad times with the results we were having. Now that we are winning, everything gets easier. I always really enjoy coming to play with Argentina. We are growing as a team, and we are still becoming stronger as a group. Wearing the captain’s armband has not changed me. I still do the same things with my team-mates.
Playing under an actual manager seems to be helping the national team (Alejandro Sabella), although the differences in quality between the different parts on the team are still quite incredible to see. Probably the best bunch of strikers in the world, with Aguero, Higuain and Lavezzi in front of Messi, while Tevez didn’t even make the team. When you look at the keeper and the defense is where the problems begin, and where Messi’s role changes.
From being the front man while playing for Barcelona, everything’s up to Messi while playing for Argentina, playing behind a striker or two. He seems more comfortable with the play maker role these days, also trying to get involved more with the build up play in Barcelona matches when needed. Argentina have enough finishing abilities even without him inside or on the edge of the box all the time.
A big difference is the protection and the level of aggression – violence Messi encounters each time he takes the field in a qualifier. The refereeing allows much more to South American players, especially on away matches, and Messi is targeted by blatant, vicious, obvious fouls. In Spain, he gets treated better. Messi himself said the one of the big differences from playing in Europe is that some of the matches in South America become actual physical battles with as little as football as possible.
Qualifying from first of fourth, it doesn’t really matter. At the moment, five teams separated by two points occupy the top five spots. Argentina with 14, Ecuador and Colombia with 13, Uruguay and Chile with 12. These five will be there when the dust settles, but with Messi looking confident and somewhat free, at least mentally, for the first time in an Argentina jersey, there shouldn’t be any problems for the Albiceleste when the group stage is over.