Romania vs. Argentina: 6 Things We Learned
Having entered 2014 elated following qualification for the World Cup and a number of encouraging results, the Argentine machine hit a bump in the road against Romania.
The South Americans were held to a 0-0 draw in Bucharest and could have fallen to defeat in a match they were expected to coast through.
It is difficult to read too much into friendlies, particularly when the clash against the Eastern Europeans represented the first match of the season for the team expected to be one of the front-runners for Brazil 2014.
Even so, as Alejandro Sabella watched his first-choice line-up stutter somewhat for large periods of the 90 minutes, there were some definite lessons for the coach to take into consideration.
Madrid, Not Barca, Most Closesly Reflect Argentina's Style
It is almost heresy to say so in the land of Diego Maradona, Ricardo Bochini, Ariel Ortega and countless other playmakers who enjoyed a stranglehold over the game. Even more so for a team that counts on Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi as its inspiration.
In any case, let us get this out in the open: The Argentina of 2014 are a more effective side when they play like Real Madrid and not with the close control and rigid possession of the Catalans.
Without the creative presence afforded by the likes of Xavi and Andres Iniesta, the Albiceleste's attempts to keep the ball often look clumsy and stilted, rarely resulting in an opening. It is using the rapid breakouts of Angel di Maria and Gonzalo Higuain, playing on the counter, when their fearsome frontline is most effective.
The Defence Is Still Not Settled
Nobody doubts that from the centre circle going forward, Argentina have a formidable line-up.
The men at the back, on the other hand, continue to sow doubts just three months ahead of the World Cup, failing to convince against Romania.
With Jose Basanta filling in for first-choice defender Ezequiel Garay, the line-up had a different look.
However, the same hiccups in fighting for aerial dominance, the same positional failings and the same lapses in concentration down the flanks were all too present.
These issues represent the Albiceleste's biggest headache in the months before Brazil 2014.
Romania Are Capable of Surprises
When one thinks of Romanian football, it is figures from the past who come most readily to mind.
Gheorghe Hagi, Gica Popescu, Florin Raducioiu—great names from the 1990s who cast a long shadow over the current side.
However, on Wednesday, Romania—who made it all the way to the World Cup play-offs before falling to Greece—proved they are more than capable of going toe-to-toe with the best teams in the world.
There was to be no repeat of the 1994 World Cup last 16, though, when a double from Ilie Dumitrescu and a masterful Hagi strike secured a famous victory over an Albiceleste shorn of Diego Maradona.
Nevertheless, Romania had chances to win in Bucharest and should be buoyed by the efforts of their back line against one of the world's best attacks.
Romero Has Been Written off Too Soon
Over the last few seasons, Sergio Romero has found himself in a unique, if unwanted position.
The undisputed Argentina No. 1 has struggled to find a place in several European clubs and currently warms the bench for Monaco in France's Ligue 1.
That lack of continuity, plus a handful of noticeable errors during the last legs of qualifying, led to great pressure being placed on the goalkeeper's equally immense shoulders.
With that being said, on Wednesday, Romero reacted in the best manner.
Two fantastic saves in the first half to keep out Ciprian Marica and Alexandre Maxim helped Argentina stave off what would have been an embarrassing defeat and also cemented Romero's position between the posts.
The Tevez Calls Will Not Cease
Argentina's forwards have a thankless task.
If they score in abundance, it is because they are part of the world's best attack—a pitiless machine adept at destroying defences across the globe.
However, if they falter for one match, it is because a certain Juventus forward is absent.
While the places of Gonzalo Higuain and Sergio Aguero are rightfully assured, doubts continue over the second line of forwards.
Rodrigo Palacio did himself no favours with a shocking miss late in the game, and neither he nor Ezequiel Lavezzi did enough to calm the calls for Carlos Tevez that continue to circulate.
Messi Needs Di Maria's Support
Argentina captain and four-time Ballon d'Or winner Lionel Messi has found the best form of his life in international colours since Alejandro Sabella took over.
Wednesday, however, gave a hint of how the little No. 10 would be treated in Brazil.
Messi was never given a moment to breathe in Bucharest and often had three or even four yellow shirts on top of him. In the World Cup, he will need a creative partner in order to avoid dropping too deep.
That man is Angel Di Maria.
The Real Madrid star has all the talent and explosive pace to be his captain's relief man, exploiting the spaces left by excessive marking to do damage. That move should be practised over and over before hostilities commence in June.