Even the most ardent of the anti-Messi gang have abandoned their mistaken stance
It seems unbelievable given the adulation he has received all over the world, but Lionel Messi has not always been universally loved in his own country. For many in Argentina, Messi was not one of them; he was a child of Barcelona, raised abroad and lacking in sufficient nationalistic zeal.
His doubters objected to him not singing the national anthem, claimed he saved his best performances for his Catalan employers and even in some quarters mistrusted the fact that, Newell’s Old Boys youth team aside, he had never formally represented one of Argentina’s passionately supported clubs.
The criticism was of course unfair, as anyone who saw the effort he put in for Argentina would testify. Removed from a Barcelona side set up to get the best out of him and without the aid of two of world football’s best midfielders, Messi was always going to struggle to replicate his stellar performances, particularly while under the haphazard management of Diego Maradona and then Sergio Batista.
However following his recent games in the light blue and white stripes of Argentina, even the most ardent of the anti-Messi gang have abandoned their mistaken stance. Their diminutive captain has scored 14 goals in his last 12 games, including two hat-tricks, and Argentina are flying high at the top of the South American World Cup qualification table.
Things are certainly looking promising for the Albiceleste who, after an early loss to the vastly improved Venezuela, are unbeaten in their last seven competitive fixtures, including important wins against Uruguay and Chile in the last round of qualifiers.
Admittedly they are far from being the complete team and big questions remain in their defence, in particular on the flanks, where Argentina’s seemingly never-ending search for the next Javier Zanetti continues. Even the dependable Pablo Zabaleta struggled in their last game and Argentina were very fortunate to survive a ferocious early onslaught from Chile without conceding. If they are to have any chance of challenging for the World Cup in 2014, then this is one area that needs serious work.
However elsewhere Argentina look a formidable opposition. Alejandro Sabella has decided, it seems, to move away from the more cautious approach he adopted earlier in qualifying by playing Gonzalo Higuain, Sergio Aguero and Messi all in the same side, as well as the attack-minded Angel Di Maria.
Messi and Aguero always seem to play with a great natural understanding of each other’s play and combined with the more physical attributes of Higuain up front, Argentina finally appear to have found a system that allows all of their deadliest attacking threats to be on the pitch at one time and they are thriving because of it.
The three men in midfield deserve credit as well, because they are providing the platform that allows Argentina’s attacking triumvirate to flourish in front of them. Javier Mascherano has been his usual belligerent self, while Fernando Gago also appears to be getting back to his best, setting up Argentina’s opener against Chile with an exquisite long pass that picked out Messi. Even Angel Di Maria, who despite his undisputed talent has at times been frustratingly inconsistent and selfish in an Argentina shirt, is showing signs of improvement. Not only did he play the ball that set up Higuain’s wonder-goal in the last match, but almost more importantly he saved a certain goal when tracking all the way back to make a last ditch tackle.
While there is clearly a long way to go until the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, with just over half of their qualification games played and with arguably one of the greatest players in history a part of their side and at his inspirational and influential best, Argentina are beginning to look like real contenders.Tagged in: Argentina, Barcelona, football, Lionel Messi, sergio aguero
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