Argentina vs. Paraguay: Argentina Needs More Than Lionel Messi to Succeed

Rob Goldberg@TheRobGoldbergFeatured ColumnistSeptember 7, 2012

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - JUNE 9: Lionel Messi #10 of Argentina reacts after scoring his second of two goals during the first half of an international friendly soccer match on June 9, 2012 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
Rich Schultz/Getty Images

For Argentina to qualify for the 2014 World Cup and be successful in the tournament, the team needs production from more than just Lionel Messi.

So far in the CONMEBOL qualifying, Argentina has had mix results. Three wins, a loss and a draw put the team in third place of nine countries with only the top four advancing. While there are still a lot of matches to be played, the squad cannot be satisfied with its performance.

The problem has been a reliance on the star player. Messi, who is arguably the best scorer in the world, has not been able to replicate the type of production he provides on a club level.

In 2011, the striker scored 73 goals in 60 appearances for Barcelona, or 1.22 goals per game. With the national team, that number shrinks to four goals in 13 games, or 0.31 goals per game. He has shown the world what he is capable of and that has raised expectations to succeed everywhere he goes. The Argentine fanbase should expect nothing less.

Messi has improved his scoring this season—he got a hat trick in international friendlies against Brazil and Switzerland—but he has disappeared for the most part when the games matter. In World Cup qualifying, he has been held to three goals in five games.

However, this does not excuse the rest of the team. If one player is marked especially well, the rest of the team should be able to pick up the slack. Instead, Argentina is winless in two matches where Messi does not score a goal.

There have been some spurts of good play from the rest of the team. Gonzalo Higuain scored a hat trick in a 4-1 victory over Chile and the most recent 4-0 win over Ecuador showed a great all-around effort from the team. The defense has also been solid while allowing the fewest goals in the tournament.

Still, Argentina is a good enough team that the players should not be satisfied with some success in qualifying. It is the No. 7 ranked squad in the world according to FIFA, and no one should be satisfied with anything less than a World Cup victory. In order for that to happen, everyone on the team needs to improve their play.

Lionel Messi is an outstanding player, but players like Higuain and Sergio Aguero need to help out up front while Angel di Maria and Javier Mascherano get them the ball. With everyone playing at their highest level, this team is difficult to beat.

Over the next few games against Paraguay and Peru, they should try to work as many other players into the offense as they can. They should win the games anyway, but they must prove they can win without Messi carrying the load.

This will be the best long-term situation for one of the most talented teams in the world.