Argentina have been labelled as a one-man team well before the start of the World Cup but how true is this? Messi’s critics have long said that his impressive performances for Barcelona are only possible due to the brilliance of the surrounding cast, namely Iniesta, Xavi and co. However, why does this not apply to the South Amercians? Is Lionel Messi really the be-all and end-all for La Albiceleste?
Maradona is said to have won the 1986 World Cup all on his own but would he really have been so successful without the six goals of the two Jorges (Valdano and Burruchaga), the heroics of Nery Pumpido in goal and the defensive solidity of Oscar Ruggeri.
Here is a list of five players in the Argentina’s number 10’s supporting cast who may prove to be an integral in leading La Albiceleste to a third World Cup victory.
Over the past few months, many have been baffled at Alejandro Sabella’s unwavering faith in Romero who spent the past season sitting on the substitutes’ bench in Monaco, whilst the likes of Willy Caballero and Julian Speroni have impressed for their respective clubs but still have failed to get a look in.
Having said that, Argentina now boast of a miserly defense that has still to concede a goal in the knock-out stages and has kept a joint-highest three clean sheets. This is in no small part due to the man between the sticks. Against Iran, Romero made a couple of truly excellent saves to keep the score at 0-0 before Messi produced a moment of magic in the latter stages of the game to grab a victory for the Albiceleste.
In the knockout stages, Chiquito kept Switzerland and Belgium at bay with a couple confident performances that ensured the back four were kept at ease and well-organized.
Even though Zabaleta has so far failed to reproduce his impressive performances for Manchester City in the current World Cup, he has still been very solid in defense and provides decent attacking width. Against Belgium, he committed four tackles, the most of any Argentine player on the field, and covered a distance of about 10 kilometres.
The former Espanyol player is an expert at halting wingers and wingbacks in their tracks and he will surely be kept busy by a Netherlands side that uses the whole width of the pitch and possesses pacey unpredictable wingers (Robben, Depay and Jermain Lens). With whatever tactics Louis van Gaal uses, be sure that Zabaleta will have his hands full. However, his surging runs forward may prove to be vital against a Dutch defense that has performed admirably in this World Cup but still somewhat lacks international experience.
The 30-year old midfield terrier is slowly becoming one of the revelations of this World Cup. Anchoring the midfield alongside Gago or Biglia, the Barcelona man has proved that he is far more suited playing in front of the defense rather than as a centre-back as is the case when he lines up for the Catalans. Apart from being excellent at breaking up the play, Mascherano also excels at delivering the ball from defense to more advanced positions with his admirable passing ability. Against Belgium, he had a 92% pass completion rate.