RIO DE JANEIRO — When Argentina supervisor Lionel Scaloni appears at his glass, he can surprise all he likes about whether or not it is half-full or half-empty — and make a wonderful case for each. What he’ll need to concede, although, is that no matter liquid is in it appears about as interesting as a brown cocktail, which is what you get once you play bartender with out Mr. Boston and with the fallacious mixture of top-shelf liquor and off-brand, plastic-bottle swill.
Brazil are up subsequent for Argentina after the 2-Zero win over Venezuela on the Maracana on Friday, and whereas the merry band of Albiceleste followers who’re sure to rock as much as Belo Horizonte will nonetheless be belting out the music by which they ask the hosts the way it feels to have the daddy pushing them round of their home, at this stage it feels extra like bluster and false braveness.
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Make no mistake about it. Overcoming a Venezuela facet that had crushed them Three-1 simply three months in the past is a step ahead, and reaching the Copa America semifinals means one thing. But it surely does not change the truth that scoring early (and including a second courtesy of a goalkeeper error) towards a group set as much as play defend-and-counter and uncomfortable with the ball can provide you a false sense of safety. Had Lautaro Martinez not conjured up that again heel after 10 minutes, this sport may have taken an uncomfortably acquainted flip: a annoyed, disjointed Argentina desperately going to the Lionel Messi nicely hoping for miracles.
Issues didn’t pan out that means, and Scaloni’s modifications, by and enormous, appeared to make sense. Juan Foyth reinvented as a right-back — a job he had by no means performed for Argentina — meant bolting the door on one flank, dropping some attacking verve maybe however injecting one other true defender into the again line. That is one thing Argentina can use proper now given Nicolas Otamendi’s ups and downs. It may be value revisiting towards Brazil if, as anticipated, the Selecao have many of the ball.
Lionel Messi (10) celebrates with Argentina teammates after they scored a aim towards Venezuela on the Copa America. Getty Photographs
Foyth’s inclusion additionally left Argentina tilting to the left flank, which was positive, no less than within the first half, since Marcos Acuna — one other newcomer — was providing width and linking nicely with Nicolas Tagliafico and, when he wandered over, Messi too. Certainly as an entire, the center of the park — with Leandro Paredes and Rodrigo De Paul becoming a member of Acuna — appeared considerably balanced, one thing which hasn’t been stated about them for a while. However that was towards Venezuela; Brazil are a distinct proposition. And Acuna’s pointless hack on Darwin Machis on the finish of the primary half suggests he may not be the reply in the case of offering the form of disciplined efficiency prone to be required towards Tite’s crew.
A minimum of up entrance, for the second sport operating, Scaloni caught to the identical trio: Martinez, Sergio Aguero and, in fact, Messi, the only survivor from the facet who misplaced the World Cup last to Germany right here on the Maracana 5 years in the past. Martinez did his bit. Not simply with the early second of genius (made potential by a horrendous Aguero end which got here his means), but additionally with one other brilliant counter later within the half the place he was maybe too deferential to Messi (hindsight being 20/20, he was in all probability higher off operating with it on his personal). Throw in tons of sharp, selfless operating and it was a very good exhibiting from the Inter Milan ahead, which is what you’d anticipate from a 21-year-old lining up alongside two 30-somethings like Messi and Aguero.
The Manchester Metropolis striker, specifically, could be very a lot the Argentina model of himself. Sure, there is a distinction between having Pep Guardiola on the bench directing you and a man like Scaloni, whose interim contract expires on the finish of this event and has about as a lot technical space presence instead’s bib. And whilst you do not see Aguero for lengthy stretches, if one thing good occurs he is often concerned — although, paradoxically, each Argentina objectives got here from Aguero miscues that fell kindly to a teammate.
Which brings us to Messi. Critics will say he had a quiet sport, and that may have been all the way down to Venezuela guaranteeing he was escorted across the pitch always. Certainly, the boo-birds within the Argentine media have been at it early within the postmatch information convention, prompting a pleading Scaloni to say that, “In the event you solely may see the whole lot he does on the pitch, the whole lot he does within the dressing room, in case you did, you’d change your thoughts.”
Messi, like his supervisor, is himself within the glass half-full/half-empty state of affairs proper now. He had two flashes towards the top of every half — a intelligent cross to Acuna, who laid on a cross that Martinez simply did not put away, and a pleasant ball for Angel Di Maria — and in case you’re judging attacking output, that is not a lot by his requirements. However he provided little issues that made the distinction. Dragging opponents out of place to clear passing lanes. Urgent — in his personal means, at his personal tempo, however with exceptional depth — late within the sport, after 90 minutes within the thick, sweaty soup that passes for a Rio winter. And, at one level, throughout a uncommon interval of sustained Venezuelan stress, taking off at full tempo down the flank, understanding it might finish with the inevitable almighty whack, which it did, with Yangel Herrera poleaxing him into subsequent month. It was traditional “take-one-for-the-team” habits.
And the operative phrase right here is “group.” Argentina appeared like one towards Venezuela, reasonably than the insecure, frazzled Messi-dependent collective we noticed earlier within the event. Perhaps not a very good group — or one which has the whole lot discovered — however a gaggle that by and enormous appeared balanced and even assured. A lot in order that Messi did not must be Xbox Messi on the day and Argentina nonetheless discovered their means on the Maracana.
False daybreak? Perhaps. Goodness is aware of there are nonetheless so many incongruities and inconsistencies in Scaloni’s setup that it may all come tumbling down in Belo Horizonte. However the truth that Argentina appeared like a unit for the primary time in a protracted whereas and Messi was extra laborious hat than prime hat, means that Scaloni’s brown cocktail may simply style higher than it appears.