Argentina's 2-1 win over Bosnia-Herzegovina was by no means a classic victory. But an own goal from Sead Kolasinac and Lionel Messi's wonder-strike helped the Albiceleste take the three points they so desired from the first game in Group F.
Coach Alejandro Sabella, however, must find a way to plug a shaky defence before the latter stages of the tournament fall upon the Seleccion.
It was an uneven performance, rather than a bad one, from those entrusted with keeping the net safe. The first half saw the back line look extremely uncomfortable. This could have been down to the tactical alterations imposed by the trainer, which seemed to unbalance the team across the pitch.
Sabella opted to sacrifice Gonzalo Higuain and Fernando Gago for the first half, adding Hugo Campagnaro into the mix to start with a five-man defence. Ostensibly a measure to stop the powerful Edin Dzeko shining, it did not seem to have the desired effect.
Just as fielding too many attackers can sometimes leave those up front bumping into each other, starved for space, a similar effect could be seen amongst Campagnaro, Ezequiel Garay and Federico Fernandez. With nobody appearing to know who to pick up, Bosnia advanced on the Argentina goal and if it was not for a couple of key interventions from goalkeeper Sergio Romero, the Balkans side could have reverted the early lead.
Despite promising display, #bih lacking incisiveness which could be offered by Dzeko. Fabulous save from Romero to deny Lulic though.— Ahmed Osoble (@mrahmedosoble) June 15, 2014
A turgid first 45 minutes, where the Argentines enjoyed a clear superiority in possession but struggled to create any chances of note, raised concerns once more over the World Cup pedigree even of stars such as Messi. The quintet of defenders was ideal for patting the ball across the Argentina half, but they offered none of the verve and urgency usually a hallmark of this Albiceleste team.
The entrance of the two absent stars improved that spluttering offensive effort, but there was a trade-off at the back.
After a solid game, Romero should have done much better to keep out Vedad Ibisevic's tame close-range shot. But the real concern was how the player skipped through the Argentine offside trap on his way to goal. Fernandez was left floundering as Ibisevic manoeuvred on goal, the Napoli man's lack of agility laid bare against a more athletic opponent.
The Albiceleste did what they had to do in Rio de Janeiro's iconic Maracana Stadium. Like Brazil several days previously, the side had to take on a technically inferior but much more physical rival, who closed down their stars and made sure they would not have a moment's peace on the ball. A brilliant Messi goal to end an eight-year World Cup dry spell was the icing on the cake for Sabella.
But work needs to be done. Against Germany, the Netherlands and Brazil themselves, defensive deficiencies will be ruthlessly exposed. A repeat of 2010's quarter-final humiliation is not an option again; Sabella needs to sort out his unsteady back line, and fast.