Two nights ago, Argentina battled their way passed a Suarez-less Uruguay to clinch their first three points in this year's Copa América.
The albiceleste, who were physically beaten by their long-time rivals, proved to both themselves and the fans that they are a team worthy of lifting the title in football's oldest tournament.
Unlike last week's humiliating draw against Paraguay, the Argentines were sharp and swift in their passing and attack, their crosses were consistently dangerous, and they were eager to hold possession of the ball, the latter of which evaded them in their opening group stage match.
Argentina's first 45 minutes, though somewhat dull and scoreless with the exception of a few rising tempers and Tata Martino's ejection from the pitch, served almost as a dress rehearsal for the second half.
Once it was underway, it only took 10 minutes for Argentina to score the first, and only, goal of the game. The decisive play began with a well-placed pass from Messi to Pastore, who had to immediately make a quick 360 degree turn to evade the oncoming defender. After losing his marker, Pastore pushed the ball forward toward Zabaleta, who smoothly controlled it with his first touch and then crossed it into the box with the second.
With the ball flying dangerously into the goalkeeper's area, Sergio Agüero, in a divinely inspired run, somehow managed to beat his sticky defender and head the ball into the back of the net through an ever-narrowing angle.
Argentina continued to pressure the Uruguay backline for the next 35 minutes with several close calls, but no success. Even Messi failed to score with two low, driven shots at goal.
Uruguay, on the other hand, looked distraught and disconnected throughout the entirety of the match. Their failure to hold possession, control the pace, or score eventually lead to poor, frustrated tackles and at least two fights between the South American rivals.
After such an impressive performance, it’s clear that Argentina have made vast improvements to both their defense and offense, and, even with Messi not displaying the physics-defying skill that we see with Barcelona, there is little doubt that Martino’s men are the favorites to win this coveted title.