Let's continue looking at how Argentina fared in matchday 3 and 4
Matchday 3: Argentina 1-0 Paraguay (W)
La Albiceleste switched from their 433 to a 4231 for this one with Messi lining up centrally behind his good friend and perhaps future club-mate Aguero. There was a nice fluidity in attack with Di maria tricky jagging in off the right wing and Papu Gomez effective with his direct running and change of pace on the left.
7 minutes in Aguero spun and shot over the bar; it wasn’t the easiest chance but for a man of his quality it could’ve easily been a goal. Gomez scored the only goal of the game with a deft little finish (10) after being played in cleverly by Di Maria. On the stroke of half time, La Albiceleste had a second goal ruled out for offside. Messi - epitomising the battling spirit he has shown this tournament – lunged forward desperately to try and connect his head with a Papu Gomez cross and a Paraguayan defender deflected in. However it was ruled out via VAR after a foul in the build-up play.
By his usual lofty standards Messi had a quiet game (7.4 rating), perhaps jaded after playing his 3rd full game in just 7 days. However he still got involved and had some magical moments showcasing his insurmountable quality, leaving a Paraguayan defender to eat dirt with one body swerve and then nutmegging another.
At times I felt that Paraguay didn’t even come to play football as they played fairly defensively and tried to break up Argentina’s momentum in the first half. However, when they decided to get down and play, Almiron was particularly bright with his direct running and Kaku was a creative force. To their credit, they grew into the game second half as Argentina looked to protect their lead. As Messi wasn’t at his very best tonight, as the game went on Argentina looked lost when going forward in any move which didn’t involve him which is a concern.
MotM: Ángel Di María (7.7)
- Aguero is getting sharper and closer to full fitness with another game, he chipped a delightful through ball to Messi for his second goal.
- The Back 4 deserve credit for an great performance, solid throughout as they dug deep. German Pezzella had an excellent game and demonstrated his impressive passing range.
- There was far less control in this match than against Uruguay especially in the second half Paraguay had far too much of the ball and more shots on target.
- When Messi is not involved in the attack/tired/ double marked Argentina can often look clueless in the final third and also very suspect finishing wise
- Substitutes were very underwhelming failing to impact the game at all and overturn the Paraguay tide 2nd half.
Matchday 4: Bolivia 1-4 Argentina (W)
Lionel Messi led his country to a dominant win on the same night he claimed a historic record. Messi scored twice and got an assist as he became his country’s record appearance holder with his 148th appearance.
La Albiceleste opened the scoring in the 6th minute with a beautiful move. Angel Correa – who had a great game – sold a defender with a lovely body feint and passed it to Messi. The captain spun and chipped a gorgeous through ball to Papu Gomez who finished with aplomb. Although Argentina continued to dominate proceedings they couldn’t find another breakthrough til the 33rd minute when Gomez’s trickery earnt a penalty. Messi duly stepped up to fire home without fuss.
The third goal was a thing of beauty as Aguero’s perfect lofted pass sent Messi away to lift the ball over the onrushing keeper from outside the box. Aguero was unlucky not to net with a couple of half- chances later on. On the hour mark Bolivia showed some of their quality with a nice move which was finished off superbly by Erwin Saavedra. However, the comeback was not to be as Lautaro Martinez netted his first goal of the Copa campaign tapping home a rebound to see Argentina home and dry. Special mention to Carlos Lampe who denied Messi his hat-trick late on with a fabulous stop - making 9 saves in total.
A commanding performance by Argentina albeit against the weakest opponents of the four. However, you can only beat what’s in front of you!
MotM: Lionel Messi (9.9)
- Papu Gomez was again in excellent form finishing off Messi’s pass for the first then winning the penalty for the second. Hope this continues into the knockouts!
- Aguero looking fitter again and contributing more to the build up play as epitomised by his fine assist.
- Messi was in imperious form ending the match with 2 goals and an assist and controlling the game at will.
- Lautaro Martinez got a goal! Unlucky not to net more when denied by a superb double save from Lampe.
- Lisandro Martinez was a rock at the back
- Switching off in concentration for Bolivia’s goal, cannot afford to do that in the knockout rounds.
- Montiel was underwhelming as was Palacios : not too big a cause for concern but have to step their game up for the better opponents ahead.
This result meant Argentina qualified in first place in Group A
With the 4 games over, I’ve selected a few players to briefly analyse in a quick ranking system below.
(N.B not ALL players used in this chart as some have too few/no minutes)
Overall team performance rating: 7/10
The signs are there that Argentina are slowly clicking into gear. Whether the team can amply support Messi in the biggest crunch matches ahead remains to be seen. For now, positive signs for La Albiceleste but there is work to be done, starting with the quarter final vs Ecuador in the early hours of Sunday morning (GMT). Vamos!