Argentina more than just Messi: Argentina has relied mostly on individual moments of magic from Lionel Messi to work its way through this World Cup—be it his extra time winner versus Iran in the group stage, or his pass that led to Angel di Maria’s late goal against Switzerland in the Round of 16, or his setting up Gonzalo Higuain’s decisive strike against Belgium in the quarterfinals. Messi has carried the offensive load, bagging the majority of his country’s goals and supplying teammates with plenty of scoring opportunities.
Messi was far from his best on Wednesday, effectively contained by a Dutch side that shadowed his every move. Not to worry, though—Argentina put in a magnificent team defensive performance, led by Javier Mascherano, in shutting down Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder and Robin van Persie. How organized was Argentina in its team defending? So good that Robben attempted just one pass in the opening 45 minutes. So good that it took the Dutch 98 minutes to register their first shot on target. So good that Sneijder failed to find van Persie with a single pass in regulation time. The Netherlands couldn’t get into a rhythm, thrown off their game by an opponent that gave them absolutely no room to breathe.
This wasn’t Messi’s finest two hours on a soccer pitch. But it didn’t have to be. Victory was secured not by an individual moment of brilliance—although there were plenty of those, including a great tackle by Mascherano inside the box to deny Robben in the 90th minute— but by a team committed to staying organized, keeping its shape, and defending with intelligence.
Argentina’s defence was seen as its weak point ahead of this tournament. The South Americans have now recorded three clean sheets in a row and gone 373 consecutive minutes without conceding a goal. Germany scored seven times against Brazil. They won’t do that against Argentina. They won’t even get seven chances on goal.
2014 FIFA World Cup: Sportsnet.ca is your home for in-depth coverage of the FIFA World Cup in Brazil. TV viewers can watch all 64 games on CBC and Sportsnet from June 12 to July 13. Be sure to watch Connected every night on Sportsnet for all of the latest news and analysis. And check out Sportsnet magazine’s team profiles of all 32 nations.
Stat of the day
7 – Seven of the games at #WorldCup2014 have gone to extra-time, the most since 1990, when eight did. Supersize.
1) Javier Mascherano: He’ll be nicknamed “the General” after this one. A commanding performance highlighted by his tireless running, timely tackles and key interceptions 2) Ron Vlaar: He missed the first penalty of the shootout. But that shouldn’t overshadow a wonderful performance from the Dutch central defender who was immense. 3) Sergio Romero: He wasn’t called upon to make a save until extra time. But then he came up big in the shootout to deny Ron Vlaar and Wesley Sneijder.