Lionel Messi Must Find Help in Argentina Attack to Get Past Netherlands

Steven Cook@@stevencookinFeatured Columnist IVJuly 9, 2014

Argentina's Lionel Messi warms up during a training session one day before their World Cup semifinal soccer match between Netherlands and Argentina at Itaquerao Stadium in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Tuesday, July 8, 2014. (AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano)
Victor R. Caivano/Associated Press

The biggest question of Lionel Messi's place among the greatest football legends was his play in World Cups, and so far he's answered that by taking Argentina on a deep run in Brazil. But the undying rhetoric surrounding Messi and his national team is the lack of help his supporting cast offers. 

The Argentines are just two wins away from hoisting the title in their home continent, but that problem hasn't exactly gone away.

Through their first four matches, Messi scored four of his team's six goals—with one of those coming from a Bosnia-Herzegovina own goal.

Things have just barely gotten better in the elimination phase of the tournament. Messi created Argentina's only goal against Switzerland, and one brilliant strike from Gonzalo Higuain was all they could muster against Belgium.

Manu Fernandez/Associated Press

Messi has been his usual self for the Argentina attack, slipping in and out of tight spaces and drawing a heap of defenders his way. But when those spots open up, his fellow attackers rarely take advantage.

Sure, the defense has been strong enough to get them by without having serious help around Messi. But against an offensively-potent squad such as the Netherlands, the experienced-but-slow back line is bound for trouble.

That makes Argentina's problems in attack go from bad to worse. One moment of brilliance from one of the attackers and Messi's constant pressure might not be enough when Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie are on the other end of the pitch.

Thanassis Stavrakis/Associated Press

For much of his time in Brazil, Messi has had the help of Angel di Maria in attack. He's been there to complete runs for Messi and offer his pace as an option in attack.

But after di Maria went down early against Belgium, he suffered an injury that will keep him out of the semifinal, per Sky Sports Football:

Messi already had problems finding help alongside him in the attack and now arguably his biggest sidekick is out of the fold. That's a big blow.

But it's one that could be countered with a key return. 

As Fox Sports News noted, Sergio Aguero looks fit to return:

Aguero has been out with an injury, and his return could be just what Argentina needed. The help simply hasn't been there for Messi, with Higuain out on an island.

The Manchester City striker seems to fill that void, as his low center of gravity, speed and vision could allow Messi to have an ideal running mate.

Victor R. Caivano/Associated Press

If Aguero doesn't fill that void, though, it's likely that nobody does. And with a Dutch defense on him that has looked quite impenetrable at times in Brazil, that wouldn't be a good thing for Argentina.

Higuain has shown world-class ability at times, and if he can create separation, it would go a long way for Messi to gain the help he needs. Just as well, Ezequiel Lavezzi on the outside needs to make more of an impact.

Without that, Messi will be stuck doing what he had to do in the group stage—forcing a late winner. And against a team like the Netherlands, there's no telling that the Argentines will even be level for Messi to do that.