Fifa World Cup 2018: Argentina need more than magic | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, June 24, 2018 / LAST MODIFIED: 11:49 AM, June 24, 2018

The Russian Record

Argentina need more than magic

While talking with my family back home during Brazil's World Cup game against Costa Rica on Friday night, I was informed that the three Argentine flags strung up on our neighbours' roof in the old part of Dhaka were removed immediately after Argentina's dreadful 3-0 defeat to Croatia.

The chastening loss certainly upset the fierce Argentina fans in Bangladesh. However, not many Argentineans, who are still loyally following their team in Russia, are even aware of this sport-loving nation's geographical location.

The flags will probably reappear when Argentina travel from their tranquil base-camp in Moscow to the flying-saucer-like stadium in Saint Petersburg on Tuesday for their final group game against Nigeria -- the African nation that kept Argentina's World Cup hopes alive with a 2-0 win over Iceland.

It will be a day that will decide the ultimate destiny of Jorge Sampaoli's men -- Argentine fans call it Sampaoli's team rather than Lionel Messi's -- in the tournament.

A win will keep Argentina's World Cup ambitions within reach, subject to Iceland losing their game against group leaders Croatia. Any other result will send them packing immediately from the first round, which would be quite an embarrassing situation for one of the five biggest title contenders.

Calls to crucify Sampaoli and even Messi have already been heard after their thrashing in the Croatia game, where the Argentine coach's policy to field three defenders in an effort to play wide with two wing-backs backfired greatly against the midfield heavy Croats.

More emotional fans have even begun to bring the team's motivation into question while holding Messi responsible for not providing the leadership role in desperate times.

However, many tend to forget that football is a game of scoring goals, and that is the defining line which separates success from failure. What would have happened had Messi not missed the penalty against Iceland in their opening game? Perhaps if Argentina fail to progress to the next round then that one moment of error could be regarded as the defining moment of their downfall.

Brazil were almost in a similar scenario on Friday as they failed to score against Costa Rica in the 90 minutes of regulation time before Philippe Coutinho's goal salvaged a win.

It seems that the first couple of games in the World Cup are always tricky for big teams. Defending champions Germany lost their opening game against Mexico 1-0 despite doing everything in their power to prevent the defeat in the second-half, sans scoring a goal.

Even while criticising Sampaoli for the Croatia defeat, people seem unwilling to accept how well their opponents played in that game, where Luka Modric not only pulled the strings like a proper midfield general but also scored one of the finest goals in this World Cup.

Sampaoli is managing a team that have an imposing attacking line-up but lack creativity in midfield while their defence is vulnerable against any quality opposition. He ignored the qualities of a fine midfielder like Ever Banega against Croatia and after a late injury ruled goalkeeper Sergio Romero out of the World Cup, they were left with Willy Caballero, whose blunder opened the floodgates for Croatia's second-half onslaught. Interestingly, Sampaoli did not get enough time to scout out other home-grown talents.

On the other hand, Brazil coach Tite was cautious in their first game against Switzerland and this was made evident when he brought on Renato Augusto in place of Paulinho in the second-half. Tite opted for a more aggressive approach when he introduced centre forward Roberto Firmino in place of midfielder Paulinho against Costa Rica.

It was a desperate move in a desperate situation which worked out well for Brazil, a team that have a heavyweight on the bench in every department.

Football is a game for the brave. Come next Tuesday Sampaoli and Co. will have to be brave if they are to truly kick-start their World Cup ambitions and put behind all those emotional, yet logical, criticisms. More importantly, they cannot sit back and wait for some Leo magic but rather they need to work harder as unit if they are to avoid being the first big casualty of this World Cup.

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