PRETORIA, SOUTH AFRICA - JUNE 13: Lionel Messi of Argentina's national football team speaks to the media during a press conference on June 13, 2010 in Pretoria, South Africa. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
Argentina have today been eliminated in Copa America where they are as you may know, the host country, in a penalty shootout with Uruguay who won 5-4, on penalties.
Of course this isn't a summary of the game because this is Barcelona talk and once again Argentina showed their usual debilitating weaknesses that finally caused their demise as I had predicted it would, if they continued to make Messi their playmaker.
The most exciting moments of the game were the early one's because each team played to win and so we saw our usual free flowing action common of two teams that want to go out and win a Copa America. Argentina defended poorly in minute six and Diego Perez scored from a free-kick from Diego Forlan. Argentina responded ten minutes later as Higuain put away a header from an assist by none other than Lionel Messi. From here on this game was poor and demonstrated clearly the gulf of talent that exists between Argentina and FC Barcelona, and for once put an end to Batista's dream of playing like the inimitable Barcelona.
If you have watched any of the previous Classico this past season of Real vs Barcelona this game was no different. Uruguay was outgunned and a man down since minute 39 when Perez received his marching orders and yet Argentina's game did not intensify being a man up. It was as if Uruguay was Real and Argentina was Barcelona early on but that would change in the second period. The difference between who Argentina want to be and what Barcelona are, came to light.
If Uruguay learned something from Real Madrid is that to Argentina, Messi is their brain and if they knock him out this team is dead. They are incapable of passing, of coordinating an attack, and so like any team that is strategically lead and has the heart and mentality to battle till the end, Messi was targeted yet again. Uruguay harassed, fouled, hit, Messi to death until Messi was all out of energy and tired. Once Messi was beat to death Argentina showed their weakness of being unable to score, and being unable to attack in clear cut chances. Many things can be learned of the huge difference that exist between both teams when facing a similar situation, here is my list:
1) Difference between a team with a plan and a team with a man.
While in Barcelona, Messi was targeted by Pepe only, Uruguay as a team helped out in marking him out of this game. Unlike Barcelona, when Messi is down, Argentina have no one else who knows how to formulate an attack. In Barcelona Messi's sacrifice is never in vain because eventually the ball will come to him and he will score some chances. Throughout this entire encounter Messi had one shot on goal because no one else on Argentina is capable of making a decent pass to him in a threatening space. I reiterate my past statements, Messi cannot be the workhorse, he is to fragile, his skill to precious, to waste him doing such a task. Messi is no playmaker, and as beautiful as his assist to Gonzalo Higuain was, Messi is better at receiving those passes than giving them. Had Messi received more of the passes that Higuain received tonight or the balls that Pablo Zabaleta skyrocketed into the stands, I'd be writing a different story tonight. Simply put, Messi is no playmaker, and Argentina use him as such because they have no one else. It will never work, because they become predictable if all attacking threats originate from one man. Until Argentina get themselves playmaker's they will never win and they shall be know for loosing against teams who are lead by men who logically see that Argentina is a one man team. Uruguay don't have playmakers either but the difference is that they don't rely on what they don't have, to win.
Barcelona is a motivated team and Argentina is simply not. When Barcelona have been a man up in any match the opponents and their fans know the end is near. Even the mighty Real Madrid with all it's power never wished to be a man down against Barcelona. Playing a man down, most teams know that they are in trouble, that they are holding on for life and must put in a brave fight to retain a decent score, Uruguay knew this and responded to adversity. If however Barcelona is given such an advantageous, rarely do opponents survive and if they do, it is a fought survival. Argentina against Uruguay had such an opportunity, but showed the heart of a mouse to Uruguay's lion. They offered no challenge and sat back for most of the second half comfortable in their 1-1 tie. It is incredible and unforgivable that being a man up from minute 39 till 87, when Mascherano was expelled, that Argentina did not move heaven and earth to destroy Uruguay. Every coach in the world knows that when your a man up so early in a game like this that it's a war of attrition and simply a matter of time till you score. This is the fault of a coach who simply has not motivate his players to show any heart since Argentina was relaxed for almost the entire half until desperation and overtime set in and chaos reigned.
3) Winning the initiative/Momentum
Once in overtime, much like I'm positive Mourinho had hoped to take Barcelona into in the Champions League Semis, desperation set into an Argentina side that was disjointed and just did not know what to do with the ball,Uruguay then knew it was their time to win it. If Real Madrid had a set game plan back in the Champions League Semi-finals it was clearly to emerge unscathed in the first game, go to Camp Nou and if necessary win in overtime or a penalty shootout. Uruguay emerged unscathed after regular time in the sense that they could still win, and that parity had been restored through Mascherano's expulsion. Uruguay won the initiative, the momentum was theirs, and having come this far, where going to win it.
4) Tactics and cohesion
Washington Tabarez, Uruguays coach, must be Mourinho's twin because he played his card as if he was Mourinho himself. Tabarez knew Messi was tired because he was beat, without him that Argentina had no hope to formulate an attack, he gambled that they wouldn't be scored on, and that desperation was rip in the Argentine ranks with parity restored, the game still on, with the home crowd demanding victory from Argentina, and with everyone on Argentina trying to be the hero. In these moments is where the real metal of a team is measured and Barcelona's is clearly solid iron while Argentina's is of a malleable variety. Barcelona have been in worse situations such as a man down & goal down in Stamford Bridge against Chelsea and still showed the heart to win it. They were a goal down against Estudiantes de La Plata in the club world cup with seconds left, and still took the initiative from them to win it in overtime. In order to win one needs to always have a plan and Uruguay had one tonight while Argentina's unraveled. Barcelona always has a plan, it is their philosophy to possess the ball, attack, and repeat, and even when they loose with this plan, they don't stray from it to another. It is this plan, this consistency that forms a team culture over time. Uruguay's team culture is always to fight hard and fight very narrow victories. But with this plan they are motivated, they can steal the initiative, and can win, if a team doesn't have a better one than theirs. Argentina is no Barcelona because they lack equal organization to plan out a strategy that survives the adversities encountered on the field. Simply put, tactics are a culmination of everything that has been mentioned and Uruguay seemed as if they had prepared for penalties since the get go while Argentina was desperate to avoid them as was clear on Batista's face when the time was called.
If Argentina had a game plan, who really knows what it was in the second half and in overtime because it was impossible to tell. Uruguay were able to take the game to Argentina being a man down because they were always going to defend and counter, and exploit free kicks. Who knows really what Argentina's game was from minute 46 till the Penalty shoot outs. Once in penalties it's anyone's game but since Uruguay had come so far, from disaster to possible triumph, they had all the favorable conditions on their side while the games hardships took its mental toll on Carlos Tevez, the man who missed the goal that lead to defeat.
In the end then all these things are again why Messi is brilliant for Barcelona and lackluster for Argentina. Messi is a man in a team that is Barcelona in Argentina he is the man who is the team and no one else is his teammate. In the face of adversity or opportunity, Barcelona rarely flinches and fights for the win while Argentina is afraid or cannot take the fight to anyone. Any team that is a champion always takes the initiative especially when given such a perfect opportunity because if they don't then they aren't winners, Barcelona always seeks to take momentum on their side. If the opponent can unnerve and unravel your teams tactical plan to cause mayhem, your always destined to loose, the key to Barcelona is cohesion. Without cohesion Barcelona would be nothing, and because Argentina demonstrate not to have it, they are nothing, not a team, and not a winner.
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