No argy-bargy as Messi magic bursts Bosnia bubble
Argentina, many people’s favourites for the World Cup at 7/2, secured, what was in the end, a routine victory over Bosnia in their Group F opener.
Prior to the game, a Brazilian newspaper printed what was viewed in some circles as a cruel fact. Neymar had scored more World Cup goals than Lionel Messi had managed in his entire international career, with the former winning by two strikes to one.
Whether or not Argentina’s magician had read the article, he certainly responded in emphatic fashion. His first order of business was a free-kick delivery which eluded everyone apart from Bosnia’s Sead Kolosinac, whose own goal gave La Albiceleste a first half lead.
Coach Alejandro Sabella started with a version of 3-5-2, which saw Messi partnered with Sergio Aguero in attack and Gonzalo Higuain sacrificed. It was perhaps a surprise, as Argentina had successfully played 4-3-3 in qualifying to ruthless effect. With Angel di Maria deployed just behind Messi, Aguero and Higuain, they swept opponents aside, and it was perhaps this as well as the pedestrian performance in the first half that motivated a change.
They switched back to this favoured tactic for the second half and immediately looked a threat. Messi invariably had a free role and was afforded time and space on the ball to do what he does best. A mazy run from just over the half way line, led swiftly to a slick give and go with Higuain, as he ghosted through attempted tackles and dispatched the ball low and hard past goalkeeper Asmir Begovic to double his team’s lead. Although his shot went in off the post, he deserved the goal.
The player, who is now 5/1 to be the top scorer admitted he was nervous before the match: “It’s the first game, I was anxious, nervous. It was important to start with a win. We’ve got to improve certain things, but it was important to start with the three points.
“I wanted to release all the energy from other times when things didn’t go right [with the national team],” said Messi. “It’s always a pleasure to score with the national team.”
He added: “We had a great second half. We had the ball much more, created several opportunities and that’s what we have to continue to do.”
The player, who missed out on domestic and European honours at Barcelona this season also touched on the change to a 4-3-3 system at half time.
“As strikers, we prefer that system as it gives us more attacking opportunities and if we don’t use that system we suffer a bit,” said Messi. “I was often on my own and so was Kun [Sergio Aguero] and it was very difficult, so there are things to be improved on.”
Sabella, on balance seemed satisfied though admits there is room for improvement. “On balance I would give the performance against Bosnia-Herzegovina a six. We need to improve and part of that is in my hands – it is up to me.
“The changes at half-time just produced this improvement. They were playing better together and there was more support around Messi. Once Messi received the ball there was better follow-up and better support.
“I think that, whatever happens in this World Cup, he is among the best players in the history of football.” Some statement, but he’s in the right place to prove him right.