You are crying since Italy (World Cup 1990) ‘till today! You are going to see Messi!
The World Cup will be ours! And Maradona is greater than Pele!
That’s a rough translation of the last few lines of a song that has been bellowed out by the Albiceleste faithful in Brazilian stadiums during this World Cup. And as Argentina moved into the semi-finals of the tournament after a 1-0 win over Belgium, it’s a chant that’s looking increasingly prophetic.
There’s an aura developing around this Argentinean team. When Spain won the World Cup in 2010, every game finished 1-0 in the knockout phase. Despite La Roja’s supremely technical players and bespoke brand of possession football, it’s often overlooked that their campaign was founded on a diligent defence with the odd bit of stardust from Andres Iniesta and David Villa.
Four years on—while the two sides are in no way stylistically comparable—Alejandro Sabella’s squad seem to be underpinned on the same basic principles. They’re compact, cohesive and right up until their quarter-final clash with Belgium, they were relying on a little bit of magic from Lionel Messi to get them over the line in tight games.
But against Belgium, the little maestro didn’t reach his usual heights. He was clever on the ball and showed the odd glimpse, but he was not at his scintillating best by any means.
Despite that, this collective performance is the one that the Argentinean supporters will take the most positives from. Not just because it means they’re in the semi-final—that goes without saying—but because at long last, some the supporting cast wrestled the spotlight away Messi.
Gonzalo Higuain, a player that’s been on the periphery of this tournament, seized his movement, scoring a fine goal early on.
Angel di Maria, who was largely awful against Switzerland despite his late goal, was excellent in midfield before hobbling off, bamboozling the Red Devils midfield duo of Marouane Fellaini and Axel Witsel with his wonderful touch and fleet of foot.
But defensively is where they are most impressive ,despite this area being cited as a major weakness by plenty in the build up to this competition. And back line is getting better and better.
Javier Mascherano put in another superb showing at the base of the midfield, showing once again that he is Argentina’s captain in all but name. A little further back, Pablo Zabaleta was typically effervescent at right-back, while Ezequiel Garay and Martin Demichelis were supreme against a physical Belgian forward line.