Why Angel Di Maria Is Under Most Pressure for Argentina Following Win vs. Iran

Daniel EdwardsFeatured ColumnistJune 22, 2014

Argentina's Angel di Maria, right, and Lionel Messi stand together during the group F World Cup soccer match between Argentina and Iran at the Mineirao Stadium in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Saturday, June 21, 2014.   (AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano)
Victor R. Caivano/Associated Press

Argentina winger Angel Di Maria came into the World Cup on top of the world. The Real Madrid star had done more than anyone to help his team win the fabled Decima, beating Atletico Madrid in the Champions League final after a lung-busting run from Fideo led to Gareth Bale's header. 

The Brazil tournament was supposed to be the next big leap for the lanky attacker. But after two mediocre performances in an Albiceleste team yet to hit even third gear, Di Maria needs to break out of his funk and soon. 

Perhaps the ex-Rosario Central youngster can be forgiven for his slow start to the World Cup. While his team-mates were already thinking ahead to the tournament, resting at home after a punishing season, Fideo was still focused on bringing home Europe's biggest prize.

His downtime was almost nonexistent; just days after putting his body through hell over 120 minutes of play, he was returning to Argentina to meet up with the rest of the squad. 

But the Albiceleste cannot afford to have Di Maria playing on half a tank. He is absolutely crucial to their play, the engine in midfield who breaks the defensive line and puts opponents on the back foot. Against Iran he was a shadow of his usual energetic self, and the whole team suffered for it. 

Nineteen of the player's passes went astray in the Mineirao, making him by far the most imprecise player on the pitch out of both teams. Di Maria suffered like all the Argentina forwards. He was starved of space by a possessed Iran side, and he rarely had the chance to pick out a team-mate with a clean ball. But even so, that level of profligacy is unacceptable at the highest level. 

The whole world knows that Fideo has the ability to unlock a tense match. He proved it in those frantic final minutes against Atletico, another side who packed their own area with bodies as they strived to hold on to the lead. But unlike that game, inspiration was lacking for the winger.

It was up to Lionel Messi to come to the Albiceleste rescue with a brilliant goal. Just minutes later, and with time running out, Di Maria was pulled off for Lucas Biglia in the classic substitution to eat away the seconds at the end of a game. His body language was easy to read; happy with the strike that had somehow assured three points but mortified with his own lack of impact. 

For now, the key for Argentina has been achieved. Six points from their opening two games means qualification for the next round is already in the bag and, barring disaster against Nigeria, they will go through at the top of Group F. 

But far greater challenges lie ahead. Di Maria is not the only man on the Argentina team that needs to raise his game in the World Cup, but if Argentina are going to triumph he must rediscover the form that helped Madrid to the summit of European football and fast.