Argentina's Misfiring Superstars Need to Find Form in World Cup

Daniel EdwardsFeatured ColumnistJune 23, 2014

Argentina's Lionel Messi jokes, right, with Argentina's Sergio Aguero as he leaves the pitch after the group F World Cup soccer match between Argentina and Iran at the Mineirao Stadium in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Saturday, June 21, 2014. Lionel Messi scored a superb goal in stoppage time to give Argentina a 1-0 victory over Iran.(AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
Sergei Grits/Associated Press

Prior to the 2014 World Cup, one thing for certain was expected of the Argentina national team. The South Americans may not have the most rounded side of all 32 competitors, but their attacking force was reason enough for their opponents to fear them in Brazil. 

So far, however, things have not panned out that way for Lionel Messi, Gonzalo Higuain, Sergio Aguero and Angel Di Maria. In two matches the Albiceleste have hit the net just three times; once thanks to an early own goal by Bosnia-Herzegovina defender Sead Kolasinic. 

The other two have come from Messi's magic left foot, saving Alejandro Sabella's men from an ignominous start to the tournament. But it is time for the rest of the Albiceleste hitmen to stand up and be counted. 

The Argentine starting offensive trident smashed an incredible 93 goals during the 2013/14 season at club level. During World Cup qualifying, Messi led the nation with 10 strikes, followed by Higuain (9) and Aguero (5). Di Maria weighed in with a further three during the Conmebol campaign, and finished Real Madrid's last season with 11 goals and a brilliant 26 assists. 

In short, the country have all the tools necessary to blow their opposition away. So what has gone wrong so far? 

First of all, it is unfair to solely focus on their own failings. Both Bosnia and Iran played exceptional defensive games against technically superior opponents, correctly identifying the men who make Argentina tick. Take Messi and Di Maria out of the equation, and defend deep enough to avoid the lightning-quick counters, and much of the team's attacking potential can be nullified. 

So it proved in the opening two games. Messi barely had a moment on the ball over 180 minutes, consistently crowded out by three or even four opponents cutting his incursions at the source. It is telling that on perhaps the only two occasions the Barcelona star has had so far to gain a little space, both have ended in spectacular fashion. 

Di Maria, meanwhile, has been even more isolated, cut off from his team-mates up front and left foraging out wide with no opportunity to cut inside. According to's statistics, the team's creative engine completed just 40 out of 64 passes, for a pitiful ratio of 62 percent. Time and again the team looked for Fideo to provide the breakthrough, and he could not deliver. 

But Aguero and Higuain do not escape the criticisms. Higuain completed just 10 passes in 78 minutes, while El Kun connected with team-mates a disappointing 50 percent of the time, making 12 of 24. If the Netherlands, France and Chile have showed us anything so far, attacking is a team game at the 2014 World Cup. That pair must be more active and integrated in the Albiceleste's offensives to make their talent felt. 

Victor R. Caivano/Associated Press

Argentina are in a position that would be the envy of most sides. Two wins and six points mean that Sabella's men are already in the last 16, no matter what happens against Nigeria on Wednesday. 

But the two-time world champions and their fans demand more than just scraping through. There is an old Argentine adage from the era of La Nuestra, that golden age of the nation's football in the 1950s, which lays the blueprint for how teams should play: "Ganar, golear y gustar" (Win, win heavily and please). 

So far, the Albiceleste attackers are only fulfilling the first part of that three-point mantra. But the Nigeria match is the perfect chance for those stars to show they can reflect their club form while in international colours. 

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