Argentina scraped a draw at home to Venezuela, the bottom team of the South American qualifiers. The albiceleste are in real danger of missing out of the 2018 World Cup in Russia. They’re currently sitting in the fifth spot, which would ensure a playoff against New Zealand, but only just. With two matches to go, Argentina have precious little margin for error.
The fact that they’re even in contention to join the World Cup is in large part due to Lionel Messi’s heroics. Yes, they’re that bad.
They’re on their third coach of the qualification process. Jorge Sampaoli was supposed to be the savior, having won the Copa America with Chile. Instead, Argentina have been - if anything - worse. Maybe Sampaoli deserves the time to get the system right, but right now his country doesn’t have that time.
Let’s take a look at the extended highlights between Argentina and Uruguay.
What follows is a recap of every chance Argentina had, which you can see in the highlights.
On 29 minutes, Messi sends in a dangerous cross that no teammate can get on the end of. On 42 minutes, Messi picks up the ball in midfield, dribbles forward, does a one two, and under pressure, he powers a shot that is saved. On 48 minutes, Messi plays on Mauro Icardi, whose shot is saved. On 58 minutes, Messi sends a free kick on goal that Fernando Muslera saves. On 62 minutes, Messi gets the ball from a #10 position, dribbles forward, plays Angel Di Maria on, and Di Maria’s shot is easily saved. On 71 minutes, Messi sends a free kick to the far post, an Argentine player can’t meet it.
Did you notice a pattern? Again, this was every chance in the video, not a selective recap. Messi made every single play. It’s ludicrous.
Against Venezuela, it was the same old story. It’s the Barcelona #10 having to pick the ball up from defense, dribble alone, make every play and... then some teammate failing to score.
El problema de Messi en Argentina es que se tiene que desgastar en defensa para que el equipo juegue a algo pic.twitter.com/Wr2D9eFhCt— AlexKaiser (@alex_kaiser4) September 6, 2017
To Argentina’s credit, this time they did occasionally make a play that wasn’t 100% Messi. In fact, Argentina’s lone goal in the match came from a great play by Marcos Acuña.
But on the other hand, their performance as a whole was woeful. There was a moment where Messi cut between players, fizzed in a throughball... and Dario Benedetto laughably miscontrolled the chance.
A Messi le ponen a Benedetto y pasa esto.— PASION RIVER (@PasionRiverRP) September 6, 2017
Pobre Leo pic.twitter.com/r6QUGNFQXB
It was emblematic of Argentina’s problems; it wasn’t an aberration. There was a moment where Messi nutmegged two players, tried to play a one-two, but his teammate’s return ball was terrible and was intercepted. His team didn’t just look bad, they looked downright inept.
Messi vs Venezuela. Brilliant individual performance, sadly some of his teammates don't know what finishing is. pic.twitter.com/NEsggRHvrs— mx (@BUSQXETS2) September 6, 2017
Argentina have played 8 matches with Messi on the pitch in these qualifiers, winning 17 of 24 points. Argentina have also played 8 matches without Messi on the pitch, winning just a pitiful 7 of 24 points.
The albiceleste do have star names besides Messi, but the performances don’t match up. The squad balance isn’t there. Neither is the chemistry. If Argentina do scrape by into the World Cup, it’ll be because Messi kept this sinking ship afloat. And that in itself would be a great individual achievement.