Argentina avoids vulnerability on defense by holding a relentless attack. The ‘White & Sky Blues’ attacks their opponents’ weaknesses while relying on the strengths of players like Lionel Messi or Paulo Dybala. Yet, La Albiceleste does not exhaust energies.

Instead, the two-time World Cup champions cause their opponents to succumb to counterattacks. In the Finalissima, Argentina performed with consummate elegance against a depleted Azzurri that expended its resources.

However, Argentina’s grand aura trails back to one man: Lionel Messi. Entering the Qatar World Cup in 2022, the PSG star faces seemingly insurmountable pressure as he looks to bring Argentina its third World Cup, and Messi’s first. Nevertheless, the Argentines climbed to the summit of present form. The side enters with clear sights set on the desert sands of Qatar.

But at age 35, ‘The Atomic Flea’ is cognizant that he cannot become a champion by himself. For now, he sits cast in the shadow of Mario Kempes and Diego Maradona. Both lifted the World Cup for Argentina to establish their place in lore. If Messi retires without this honor, he misses perhaps the biggest credential to achieve legendary status among Argentinians.

However, even those stars did not summit the world of soccer without assistance up top.

Supporting Cast

The players that support the stars are often the ‘Second Forwards.’ They leave room for the main outlet to breathe and play with more freedom or creativity.

Pressure is not solely on one man or woman with a second-in-command. In instances where all that criticism and focus sets on one player, it can be too much. For instance, look no further than Messi himself. That star and savior of Argentina devoid of lifting his country’s prized possession.

Moreover, the Second Forward allows for more’ chance creations’ from the star or vice versa.

During Argentina 1978, Mario Kempes had the support of Oswaldo Ardiles. When Diego Maradona won Mexico 1986, Jorge Valdano scored a respectable four to almost match Diego Maradona’s five. Yes, Maradona single-handedly – no pun intended – defeated England and Belgium by scoring a brace in the quarters and semis. Regardless, he could not find the back of the net in the final. Instead, Valdano put in Argentina’s second before the side won 3-2.

History proves the axiom ‘defense wins championships’ rings true. However, a team cannot win if they do not eventually attack. Quite literally, it needs to score goals. A defensive retreat can only be successful as a temporary strategy. The best example of ‘pure defense’ came during the USA 1994 final. Italy and Brazil played a daunting scoreless draw that jangled nerves. Penalties was the only difference maker.

Partner in Crime

That Brazil 1994 team followed a trend of World Cup champions having a dynamic tandem at the top. Romário and Bebeto combined for eight goals in the tournament. Four years later, Zinedine Zidane and a young Thierry Henry lit it up on home soil. Then, Brazil yet again displayed dynamism at the front with Ronaldo and Rivaldo helping the side to a record-fifth title.

Oftentimes, it is the player that does not garner the goal-scoring headlines that makes the difference. In 2010, Andrés Iniesta scored the winner in the Final, while many predicted David Villa. The next World Cup, Argentina stunted Thomas Müller’s heroics, but Mario Götze came on to be the hero.

In 2022, Lionel Messi’s partner in crime is Ángel Di María.

Argentina and the second forward

Ángel Di María has an unorthodox style that makes his moves unpredictable. Moreover, his invisible presence sneaks up during high-pressure attacks like breakaways. This heightened level of consciousness makes Ángel Di María a lethal weapon on the field. In addition, his laser beam alertness makes it appear as if the rapid speed of the game occurs in slow motion. His explosiveness can be seen in his goal against Brazil in the Copa América, where he sails passed defender Renan Lodi chasing after a harmless long ball from teammate Rodrigo De Paul. Di María added the finishing touch with a volley that soars over Ederson’s head, leaving Brazilian midfielder Casemiro flabbergasted.

Moreover, in the Finalissima against the Azzurri, Di María similarly executed his goal. A long ball from Emiliano Martínez and a short pass from Lautaro Martínez led to Di María’s accelerated explosion, followed by a composed chip passed the keeper. Di María’s goals sealed the deal for Argentina’s respective shutouts of Brazil and Italy.

Missing Link

For club and country, Ángel Di María shows versatility with stunning goals from set-pieces. Simultaneously, he creates chances for finishers. Considering Di María surpassed the peak age of speed, the 34-year-old’s explosive sprints are the exception. The former Man United, PSG staple now turned Juventus winger shows that a player can be great with one foot.

Most of Ángel Di María’s goals are scored with his left. Moreover, his touch on the dribble rarely includes his right. Instead, he compensates for this shortcoming using diagonal cuts to take the ball with the outside of his left. Frequently, he employs the ‘pull & roll behind’ trick where he passes the ball with his left behind his standing right. Furthermore, his focused mindset persists while he’s off the field.

“The World Cup is one of the most important events any player can take part in, and the next could be my last.”

Ángel Di María could be the missing link to Lionel Messi’s World Cup glory – akin to Oswaldo Ardiles in 1978 for Mario Kempes, and Jorge Valdano in 1986 for Diego Maradona. The urgency from Messi & Di María could cause the pendulum to swing in La Albiceleste’s favor as serious contenders to raise the trophy on December 18.

PHOTOS: (Elianto/Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images), (Archivo El Grafico/Getty Images)