If last night was the most shockingly one-sided result in this World Cup, then tonight’s semi-final should prove to be a much more tight and evenly matched affair.
It would be astonishing to see such a one-sided game as we witnessed in Belo Horizonte yesterday, but Argentina must be wary of that sensational Dutch performance against Spain in the opening days of the tournament in order to avoid a repeat of the Brazilian capitulation to the efficiency and ruthlessness of the Germans.
The script so far couldn’t be much better for Argentina fans. Brazil are out, humiliated in spectacular fashion, and as they awoke this morning to celebrate the anniversary of Argentina’s independence, they could take great pleasure from the fact that their side, while not yet looking scintillating, have ground out the required results to progress to this competition. That last point is perhaps the most important one when considering this Argentina side.
The Argentine optimist would point to the fact that despite not playing any beautiful or magical football, Argentina are still in the competition with a side which is most definitely capable of delivering the aforementioned excitement. They have battled to single goal victories against each of their previous 5 opponents and when Lionel Messi has been needed to provide inspiration, he has delivered almost faultlessly. Surely it is only a matter of time before the entire team clicks and they produce the exciting attacking football that they are capable of with Messi, of course, still the architect.
A cynic however, may highlight this too and point to a side which relies too heavily on their number 10, one of the many mistakes which the Brazil side is most certainly ruing this morning. Messi will, unlike the injured Neymar, feauture in his sides semi-final, but one fears for Argentina should he pick up an injury. What is the backup plan then, if the playmaker, talisman and captain is taken off at any point?
When it comes to style, Argentina have shown that they have a Plan A in this tournament, pass, pass and pass again, preferably as many times to Messi as possible. Expect the Dutch to try and stifle Messi quickly if he tries to merely touch the ball in their half of the field and expect Messi to stay in that central role regardless, just waiting for that one moment when someone loses concentration, slips and he is allowed to be free.
It is impossible to discuss this fixture and not pay due attention to the force which is Lionel Messi. It is certain that Louis Van Gaal has a plan for the Barcelona man, but plenty of other managers have laid such plans before, only to see them ripped to shreds by ‘El Messiah’. The fact that Messi consistently continues to find his space, work his magic and decide games single-handedly serves as a reminder of just how much class the Argentine captain possesses.
However, Van Gaal has demonstrated an acutely brilliant tactical aptitude in this tournament, surprising every onlooker, not only with his preparation for the opposition but also his adaptation to them and especially the timing of it.