The scorelines 2-1, 1-0, 3-2, 1-0, 1-0, 0-0 — these are hardly the results of world beaters especially when the opposition includes Iran (ranked 43rd in the FIFA ranking), Bosnia and Herzegovina, Nigeria and Switzerland. However, “world beaters” is exactly what Argentina will be if they get past a Germany team whose morale is sky-high after their annihilation of hosts Brazil.
Although La Albiceleste have failed to win a match by more than one goal in Brazil, they have rarely looked like surrendering any lead that they had. Whilst Lionel Messi’s heroics were rightly being seen as their strong point in the group stages, many pundits are now looking at Mascherano and their defensive unit as being key to any success achieved at the Maracana Stadium.
Goalkeeper Sergio Romero was seen as their weak link prior to the start of the World Cup but his month in Brazil has helped to enhance his reputation tremendously. He’s still to concede a goal in the knockout stages and made crucial saves against Ron Vlaar and Wesley Sneijder in the penalty shootout against the Netherlands. Weak link indeed!
On the other hand, Lionel Messi’s last goal came in the group stages during which he netted four goals. Nevertheless, his assist to Angel di Maria against Switzerland after a mazy run down the center of the opposition defense was instrumental in helping his country progress in Brazil. Against Belgium, he put in another dazzling display a few days later. Defenders are tending to crowd out Argentina’s number 10, leaving a bit more space to his attacking colleagues to try and pounce on any ball close to or inside the penalty area, as seen by Higuain’s strike against Belgium. The number 9 was not marked properly as Vincent Kompany and teammates focused on Messi’s trademark run and he took full advantage.
Alejandro Sabella’s team’s main advantage was Diego Maradona’s most obvious weak spot in South Africa 2010. Maradona was far from being a tactical genius and playing winger Jonas Gutierrez at right-back, expecting an aging Juan Sebastian Veron to dictate play in midfield and selecting Nicolas Otamendi in his squad just because he dreamt he saw the defender lifting the World Cup Trophy were hardly inspiring decisions. Current center backs Ezequiel Garay, Federico Fernandez and Martin Demichelis (fresh from a solid season for Manchester City) are proving to be a significant upgrade on Gabriel Heinze, Nicolas Burdisso, Otamendi and an injury-ravaged Walter Samuel.