It had been a long time coming. Argentina captain Lionel Messi had gone almost eight years without hitting the back of the net in a World Cup; and he picked the perfect moment to break his drought as he broke down the Bosnia-Herzegovina defence, helping to seal an unconvincing Albiceleste victory.
Up to that point, La Pulga had been far from his best. Struggling to get the team going forward in coach Alejandro Sabella's conservative 5-3-2 starting formation, he was dragged farther and farther back into the middle of the field.
Messi was starved of companions to feed him the ball and vice versa, and far too many times in the opening hour, he lost the ball or was crowded out by a Bosnian defender. Angry Argentine voices started to emerge on Twitter and other social media hosts.
Not all of them were from Leo's own nation, however.
The tide began to turn once Sabella realised the error of his ways at half-time. Gonzalo Higuain and Fernando Gago were sent into the fray, the more dynamic 4-3-3 setup was readopted, and we started to see a little of the football that proved so effective in the qualifiers. Then, this happened:
Breaking from almost the halfway line, Argentina's No. 10 streaked forward, leaving a trail of prostrate Bosnian bodies in his wake. A neat interchange with Higuain helped him along the way, and Asmir Begovic was powerless to react as a low shot squeezed past him to nestle inside the right-hand post.
It had been exactly seven years and 364 days since an 18-year-old Messi notched his first World Cup goal, coming off the bench to compound Serbia's misery in that unforgettable 6-0 destruction under Jose Pekerman. Since then, his performances have been consistently questioned by critics, who accuse him of not giving the same level of performances in international competition as for Barcelona.
La Pulga needed that goal. But the comparison between first and second half also shows that he cannot win Argentina a World Cup single-handedly. Sabella needs to give his best player support and options, which he did not have in the opening 45 minutes of the World Cup.
But when Messi can combine with Higuain, Sergio Aguero and Angel Di Maria going forward, the results can be spectacular.
Concerned about Higuain's fitness prior to the match and also about the threat Bosnia could pose to a still uncertain defence, the coach's response was to pack the Argentina half with bodies. Messi was left a forlorn figure in the centre circle, stranded far from goal in a sight reminiscent of both the 2010 World Cup and Copa America the following year.
Sabella's tactical nous and focus on attacking football have helped banish those ghosts from his captain's brain. He cannot afford to see them reappear now as a result of his tinkering with a winning system.
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