Argentina were made to work hard before claiming a 2-1 win over Bosnia-Herzegovina in their World Cup Group F opener.
An early goal did not spark a goal-fest, but Lionel Messi showed his class with a wonderful second-half effort that set Argentina on their way to three points. Vedad Ibisevic set up a grandstand finish when he poked a shot through the legs of Sergio Romero with six minutes remaining, but Argentina held on.
If Bosnia-Herzegovina had a game plan to frustrate Argentina, it went out of the window three minutes into the contest.
Sergio Aguero was hacked down on the left, and Mensur Mujdza was made to pay a heavy price. A wicked free-kick from Messi was flicked on by Marcos Rojo, and the ball hit Sead Kolasinac and dribbled over the line.
The goal was a major setback for a side facing one of the favourites for the competition, but they shook off the blow to match Argentina early on.
The Bosnians’ work rate was impressive. They swarmed round the likes of Messi, Aguero and Angel Di Maria when not in possession and drove forward at pace when in control of the ball.
Izet Hajrovic caused the first major scare for Argentina when he dashed beyond the back line, but Romero was swift to race off his line and make a brave save.
It was not exactly the free-flowing spectacle from Argentina that had been hoped for, with the early goal possibly acting as an inhibitor.
Feel like early Argentina goal has hugely influenced the way this has played out. Way more caution from them because of it.— Paul (@UtdRantcast) June 15, 2014
Aside from the goal, Argentina’s brightest moment of the first half came from the boot of Javier Mascherano, who forced Asmir Begovic to beat away his drive. For a side containing Aguero and Messi, that is somewhat surprising.
Argentina needed a fine save from Romero late in the first half to keep them in front. Senad Lulic’s surging run took him ahead of his marker. He powered a low header on target, but Romero got down low to push the effort round the post.
Alejandro Sabella made changes at the break, the notable one being to throw on Gonzalo Higuain and shift Messi to a deeper role. Argentina immediately looked more threatening, but the Bosnians continued to attack and Romero was forced to make two saves from Hajrovic.
Messi looked a little out of sorts for an hour and chewed his shirt in frustration when firing a free-kick high over the bar. But he is a multiple-time Ballon d'Or winner, and he brought the Maracana to life on 65 minutes with a quite brilliant goal.
Picking the ball up near the halfway line, Messi drove forward at pace before exchanging passes with Higuain. He still had plenty to do, but he slalomed past defenders before curling a brilliant low finish that went in off the post.
Messi’s only previous World Cup goal came in 2006. It had been a long time between drinks for the Barcelona superstar, but it was worth the wait.
Took his time but Messi has finally decided to turn up in Brazil. Great goal and hope it's the start of a brilliant individual WC. GOAT.— Greg Stobart (@gstobart) June 15, 2014
The game looked over, but Ibisevic dashed beyond the Argentina defence in the 84th minute and poked a clever finish through the legs of Romero.
The neutrals were sparked into life, but Argentina held on to avoid a potential banana skin against arguably their toughest group opposition. They can now look forward to games against Iran and Nigeria with relish.
It was not a vintage display, but a similar comment applied to Brazil, who were made to work hard in their tournament opener. Expect the two South American powerhouses to go through the gears.
Note: Ratings based on a 1-10 scale, with 1 being the worst and 10 the best.
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Messi told reporters after the game that his side can get better, as reported by Goal.com:
Bosnia are a good team and we have things to improve, but the important thing is to start with three points. In the first half we were too deep and that hampered us in attack.
The second goal was a relief for everybody and ensured the three points, it was special for me because of the game that I had. ... The Maracana was great, I had no doubt it would be like that, we keep working towards the dream.