At High Press Soccer, we’re in agreement that Lionel Messi is the GOAT. We’d even go so far as to say that it’s not particularly close between Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
But if he’s so great, his critics ask, why hasn’t he enjoyed more international success with Argentina? It’s a debate that crops up every time Messi’s national team stumbles, and even Barack Obama has recently weighed in on the matter.
This year’s Copa America is poised to be the latest tournament overshadowed by the Messi-Argentina mystery, as La Albiceleste have turned in two disappointing performances in group play. Anyone hoping that it would be a matter of “no Gonzalo Higuaín, no problem,” is quickly learning otherwise. (And maybe starting to realize that Higuaín was not solely responsible for this team’s struggles in last two Copa Américas).
A rough start
Messi and Co. were not good enough to score in a 2-0 loss to Colombia last Saturday. They arguably did not play any better in Wednesday’s 1-1 draw against Paraguay. It’s one thing to open this tournament with a loss and a draw, but the way Wednesday’s game played out – Argentina’s only goal came on a penalty by Messi after a handball, and Paraguay botched a PK in the 63rd that would have put them ahead – Argentina was lucky to get the draw.
Could a team with the likes of Messi, Sergio Agüero and Ángel Di María be on the verge of their most disappointing Copa America flameout yet? The losses to Chile in the final in ’15 and ’16 were brutal (both on PKs!), but they would barely register as setbacks compared to a failure to make it out of a group featuring Colombia, Paraguay and Qatar.
The draw against Paraguay means a win over Qatar on Sunday should be enough to advance to the quarterfinals of the 12-team tournament, but Argentina have no margin for error.
Before examining what’s plaguing Argentina at this tournament, let’s look ahead to Sunday’s do-or-die clash with Qatar.
Can Qatar beat them?
Coming into this tournament, it was hard for casual fans to imagine non-South American squads Qatar or Japan making much noise. Qatar, however, is fresh off a surprising Asian Cup title in February. They were led in that tournament by 22-year-old Almoez Ali, who scored an absurd nine goals to lead his team to its first continental trophy. The Asian Cup is a big step down from a Euro or Copa America, but anyone sleeping on a team that scored 19 goals and allowed just one in any major competition is making a big mistake.
It’s quickly become apparent in Brazil that Qatar are no pushover. They fell behind 2-0 in their first Copa America match against Paraguay, but rallied for a 2-2 draw. Ali scored once in that match. Qatar then nearly earned another draw against Colombia, losing 1-0 as Colombia scored the game-winner in the 86th.
Considering they have to win to advance, I would bet on Argentina doing enough to stay alive, but I don’t think they will do so comfortably. A loss would not surprise me, though, and I can’t imagine anyone who’s watched these teams recently would be stunned to see Qatar pull the upset.
What’s the problem?
Unfortunately, the issues are myriad. The defense looks slow at times and disorganized at others. Keeper Franco Armani has also had a shaky moment or two, and nearly put his team down 1-0 with an awful pass in the first half against Colombia.
Argentina’s midfield is also struggling to link up with Messi and the rest of the Argentine attack, a familiar issue for this team.
Up top, Messi is (surprise, surprise) being asked to do way too much. A picture says a thousand words — and all of them express anger and/or disappointment if you’re an Argentina supporter.
Is it just me, or do we get an image or two like this from every major tournament Messi plays in?
*We’ll save the talk about whether this might be Messi’s last match in blue and white for after his team is eliminated (or crowned champion, to cover our bases), but keep an eye on High Press Soccer for that piece.