Beating Bosnia 2-1 was a decent way to start off a World Cup for Argentina and especially Lionel Messi, visibly burdened by the pressure and expectations. However, his attempt to make it all happen on his own didn’t work out so well until he and the team changed their approach. Carrying on that way will only result in heartache for him and the nation that expects so much of him.
Despite achieving everything possible in club football, Lionel Messi seeks to appease those who think he still hasn’t proven his all-time greatness. Those that think that only a star in a World Cup, a tournament that happens once every four years and isn’t as good as the European Champions League in terms of quality, deserves to be the best. So it seems Messi has let that go to his head a bit too much.
Messi did score a goal in Argentina’s 2-1 win over Bosnia, but it wasn’t a good match from the Barcelona star. He played on the right side during the first half next to only Sergio Aguero, as Alejandro Sabella used quite defensive and cautious tactics to start off the game, leaving Messi and Aguero quite isolated from the rest of the team, occasionally getting some help from Angel di Maria.
Messi was in complete selfish mode. He kept on dribbling without any intention of releasing the ball. The Bosnian defense handled his attempts very well, constantly closing him down with two or three players. Messi’s touch seems to be a bit off this season, especially since his injury, but regardless of how in form he is, playing football this way will lead him and Argentina nowhere. If it wasn’t for a lucky own goal in the first half, the pressure might have been a bit too much for Argentina to bear during the second half.
Sabella made necessary changes. He added a striker in Gonzalo Higuain and took out one of the three centre backs, introducing another midfielder. Bosnia didn’t stop looking dangerous, but Messi played behind the two strikers and had a lot more freedom and suddenly less of an urge to do things on his own. His dribbles became more efficient and eventually one of those famous breaks, along with some nice passing that led to his first goal. A classic Messi goal, the kind we haven’t seen enough from this season at Barcelona.
But Sergio Aguero left the pitch frustrated and he probably wasn’t alone. Messi might be the best finisher in the box this team or any other would have, but without him embracing a role of making others better instead of simply trying to do everything on his own, Argentina’s destiny won’t be fulfilled. They don’t have the best team anyway, suffering from a sharp contrast between their forward quality and what they have at goal or defense.
Messi doesn’t need to be Diego Maradona against England. You don’t win tournaments that way anymore, not with the kind of opponents he’ll have to face once Argentina (probably) make it out of the group stage. Being the Maradona of the 1986 final and simply using his skills and threat to feed the ball to others instead of taking it all the way himself is the best thing for Argentina and ultimately for him as well.