Rampant Argentina and Di Maria Prove There Is Life Without Lionel Messi

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Rampant Argentina and Di Maria Prove There Is Life Without Lionel Messi
Martin Meissner/Associated Press

Nobody will be getting carried away by Argentina's 4-2 victory over world champions Germany. International friendlies are a notoriously inaccurate way of gauging a team's form and quality, and at times it seemed that the Brazil 2014 winners had come for a victory lap rather than a football match. 

Still, no merit whatsoever can be taken away from the Albiceleste's achievement on Wednesday.

The nation won convincingly against the team that was a cut above everyone just one-and-a-half months ago. The victory comes under a new coach in Gerardo Martino, who had enjoyed just over two weeks in the post before his first test and a host of injuries, including that of captain and World Cup talisman Lionel Messi, befell the club.

Argentina could not have hoped for a better response as they dismantled Germany in their own backyard after having spent almost the entire World Cup being told repeatedly that they were a one-man team, dependent on La Pulga's magic left boot. 

Of course, the team that lost an agonising World Cup final 1-0 to Mario Gotze's goal may have had Messi, but it was missing one key component: Angel Di Maria. He showed the whole world just why Manchester United broke the British transfer record for his services in a virtuoso display Wednesday.

Everything the winger touched seemed to turn to gold. Sergio Aguero, another man unrecognisable from his tepid World Cup image, was the first to take advantage as he tucked away Fideo's outrageous outside-of-the-boot cross past Manuel Neuer.

It was the start of something special. 

Di Maria showed the quality that makes him such a great player later in the first half. He chased down a ball that appeared destined for a goal kick with impressive athleticism and commitment, and another pinpoint centre set up Erik Lamela perfectly for the second.

But he was not done. After the break, Federico Fernandez was the executor of the ex-Real Madrid man's third assist, while a cheeky chipped effort over Neuer's head soon gave Fideo a much-deserved strike of his own. 

The numbers spoke for themselves: One goal, three assists, and a giant middle finger aimed at Real Madrid president Florentino Perez. 

The match confirmed what many had suspected even before the World Cup kicked off: that while Messi, one-off talent and best player in the world that he is, could be replaced in the Argentina team, the loss of Di Maria would be fatal to their chances.

It was impossible not to wonder after the final whistle blew in Dusseldorf what might have been if injury had not brought the winger's campaign to an end in the last 16.

Argentina international Lucas Biglia was quoted by Oliver Brown of The Telegraph as saying: "Messi didn't play, but we had Di María. He's not among the top 15 players in the world; he's in the top three."

With regards to La Pulga, he will of course be back in the setup once recovered from a minor knock sustained for Barcelona against Villarreal. Coach Martino maintained Messi as the centre of the Barca universe during his year at the Camp Nou and shows no intention of changing that system now that he has arrived in the Seleccion. 

But there are other options.

Lamela made a brilliant impression against the world champions, scoring the second with a terrific volley and acting as a more mobile version of the captain. Aguero was not held back by the No. 10 shirt he pulled on in Messi's absence and put in his best game of 2014 for the national team, trying to redeem himself for a World Cup stunted by injury and poor form. 

Martino's Argentina has barely even begun to take form, but some signs were clear. The ex-Paraguay trainer will abandon the conservatism of the Alejandro Sabella era in favour of an XI that presses high, presses hard, recovers the ball close to the opposition area and uses the entire pitch while going forward.

There were some glitches in a defence shorn of Ezequiel Garay, but first impressions were very encouraging for Argentina fans. 

More than that, however, the gauntlet has been thrown down to Leo. Messi will need to hit the ground running and up his yardage to make sure the system does not break down at his feet, with Di Maria in scintillating form and the team playing vibrant, frantic football.

He is still key for Argentina one year out from the Copa America, but the likes of Fideo and Lamela proved on Wednesday that there are plenty of challengers ready to fight for the title of Argentina's latest football hero. 

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