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World Cup Match Review: Lionel Messi & Argentina Edge Bosnia-Herzegovina

Argentina suffered a little, but in the end held on to take an important first step in the World Cup.

Ronald Martinez


Alejandro Sabella set out in his 5-3-2 formation, partly, I would think, because Gonzalo Higuain and Fernando Gago were not fully fit. In addition, Higuain's replacement, Rodrigo Palacio, was probably not fit to play even part of the game. This was the formation outlined in our preview.

Argentina got a dream start thanks to a lucky deflection. Lionel Messi floated in a free kick which Marcos Rojo flicked on, to hit a Bosnian player, Sead Kolašinac, and trickle into the net. A freak occurrence, but Argentina would take it.

However, the obvious problems (again, discussed in the preview) with the system showed up. One, while the team kept Edin Dzeko pretty quiet, they probably committed too many players to do so.  On the other hand, lacking flying fullbacks, Argentina did not have adequate width.


Sensing this, Sabella reverted to his more usual formation with Gago and Higuain coming in. Higuain collaborated with Messi for the second goal, though in truth it was all about the #10.

A burst from the right towards the center, helped on by a one-two with Higuain, leaving defenders in his wake, and finished with impeccable placement. Messi had played well in 2010, but he hadn't scored. His relief in getting back on a World Cup scoring sheet was noticeable.

This was the best news for Argentina. A confident Messi is absolutely necessary.

Speaking of good news, Sergio Romero turned up quite a reassuring performance - for 80-odd minutes, that is. The goalkeeper, who played little this year as he was Monaco's backup keeper last season, made some good saves. But he was not at his best when 1-on-1 with Vedad Ibisevic, allowing the ball to slip under him.


It's not so much that playing 5-3-2 is always a bad idea, but that this was not the right time (nor, really, the right personnel) for it. Yes, Dzeko is maybe Bosnia's best player, but he's not worth triple-teaming. And while Marcos Rojo and Pablo Zabaleta are fine, they don't give enough of a goal or assist threat from the wings to justify playing with fewer strikers or attacking mids.

Sabella played two wingers in midfield - Maxi Rodriguez and Angel Di Maria - but they couldn't give the team attacking width without leaving Javier Mascherano alone in midfield.

Fernando Gago brought balance to the team, giving the side another player to connect defense and attack with good passing. Gonzalo Higuain brought more of a threat and created more space for Messi, which was key.

In the first half, Messi was given too much responsibility in midfield to simultaneously become a scoring threat. That he played the second-most passes on this Argentina team showed that he had to be an organizer at times.

Looking at the stats, it's easy to see. In the first half, Messi tried to dribble past players in deep positions. In the second, he did so closer to the box.

Looking at the passes he played tells a similar tale:


Not a bad run-out, and the 3 points is all that matters. Argentina should have an easier time against Nigeria and especially Iran. Qualifying first in the group will be essential.

Hopefully, Sabella learned his lesson. What's encouraging is he was not too proud to correct his mistakes. Despite being ahead, he took quick and decisive action that ultimately won the game.

Post-match, Sabella was also quick to recognize that his team did not play their best, and admitted some of the mistakes were his own, not his players.

"The changes improved the team, they helped Messi," he concluded.

Messi himself agreed: "Us forwards, we prefer to have more support."

The question now is if the 5-3-2 is useful in specialized situations or with some tweaking, or is the 4-3-3 the only way to go? The other key question is if Gago will remain fit, and if not, can Lucas Biglia or Enzo Perez do his job? Or will Sabella rue the exclusion of Ever Banega?

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