Football 1 year ago

A few reasons why Argentina will prevail without Messi

  • A few reasons why Argentina will prevail without Messi

    Argentina's forward Lionel Messi (L) argues with Brazilian referee Sandro Ricci (2nd-R) next to second assistant referee Marcelo Vangasse (3rd-R) and first assistant referee Emerson Augusto de Carvalho (R) during the half time of their 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia South American qualifier football match against Chile, at the Monumental stadium in Buenos Aires, on March 23, 2017. The FIFA on March 28, 2017 suspended Messi for four Argentina games. / AFP PHOTO / ALEJANDRO PAGNI (Photo credit should read ALEJANDRO PAGNI/AFP/Getty Images)

Much like any other footballer in the world, from world class professionals who play in massive stadiums filled to the brim, to your local league teams , no one should abuse an official for trying to do their job. 

Lionel Messi is no exception, and this was shown when FIFA suspended him for 4 international matches, which rules him out of the rest of Argentina's first round World Cup qualifying games, bar the final match against Ecuador.  

Granted, it's one thing to abuse an official in any sport these days. We all have our moments, I've seen a fair few. We're only human, and sometimes our frustration blows over.

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However, it's another thing to cop a 4 match ban for the abuse. The world sees it as unfair, drawing comparisons to Zinedene Zidane's 3 match suspension after headbutting Marco Materazzi in 2006. While it was rendered pointless due to Zidane's retirement, it's still much less than 4 matches for abusing a linesman.

It's not the same, not in the slightest. But as one of the greatest and most popular footballers in the modern day era, Messi should have known he was going to be made an example of, regardless of how great or insignificant the incident may have been. 

Nonetheless, la albiceleste have a World Cup to try and qualify for. Here are a few reasons why I think Argentina will qualify for Russia next year.

They are only a few points off the top

As it stands, Argentina are on 22 points with 6 wins, 4 draws and 4 losses. No one is catching Brazil, but the competition for the remaining qualifying spots is hotly contested. Only 2 points separates Argentina from 2nd placed Colombia.

Anyone can qualify. Those who suggest Argentina may miss the World Cup in Russia are clearly looking for a headline and some clicks on their articles. Now's not the time for fear.

Look at the table. If the qualifying games ended now, Argentina would make the intercontinental play off and would be considered heavy favourites against their Oceania opponents. At the moment, it's likely that New Zealand will be the Oceania representatives in that home and away tie. New Zealand also features the aptly dubbed "Kiwi Messi" in Marco Rojas, who shines for Melbourne Victory in the A League. 

Should Argentina miss out on automatic qualification, Messi would be eligible the intercontinental tie which takes place in November this year. Will it kill Argentina to have to take the high road? No, absolutely not. Personally, I think they could do with a bit of hard work en route to Russia. A bit of a rough patch can help refocus and re-energise a team. 

The Argentina squad is more than just Lionel Messi

A total of 10 players make up the suspended/injury list, which includes Messi, Juventus front man Gonzalo Higuain, Manchester City pair Nicolas Otamendi and Pablo Zabaleta. The list goes on, and it's more painful to read how much experience they will be missing.

Injuries and suspensions happen, and we all need to be prepared for that no matter which national team we get behind. Argentina have been dealt a rough hand, but as my dad always says to me, you bring in players to do a job, regardless of who it is or how long they've played. 

Nevertheless, the loss of these players will give opportunities to other players to make a name for themselves, or create a new footballing identity that isn't spearheaded by Lionel Messi at every turn. 

Take Angel Di Maria for example, easily one of Europe's top players, despite his stuttering year at Manchester United. He has the ability to turn up the heat on his own, and given the absence of Argentina's main starting XI, this should give him the perfect opportunity to help lead the attack.

Joining Di Maria in midfield will be Internazionale maestro Ever Banega. The 28 year old midfielder experienced back to back Europa League successes with Sevilla, and we can only assume he wants his country to taste success as he has. He will likely take on the responsibility as captain in the absence of more senior players.

Which brings me to Argentina's strikers, Sergio Aguero and Paulo Dybala. For Premier League viewers, we know of Aguero's talent on and off the ball, and his incredible goal scoring record of 117 goals in 174 Premier League games. His experience and leadership will be called upon for the new look Argentina side. 

Dybala, on the other hand, is 23 years of age with the world at his feet. Currently playing for Juventus, he has the potential to lead the next generation of Argentinian footballers, post Messi era. With 27 goals in 56 games for the Old Lady, it's only a matter of time before he notches his first goal for his country.

Could we see new look forward line for la albiceleste perhaps? Team chemistry could prove to make or break their qualifying campaign, only time will tell if they can regroup in their last 4 games.

They have a favourable run of games, but Uruguay is the challenge

Their final 4 games of the qualifying campaign are against Uruguay, Venezuela, Peru and Ecuador. While they were beaten by 2nd last Bolivia in their most recent outing, I believe that the 2-0 loss will spark an insurgence in Argentina, much like what Australia has seen with the Socceroos in recent fixtures.

It's a bit of a low point for Argentina in particular, considering they've made 3 successive cup finals and are now struggling on the road to Russia. However there's nothing like a dose of reality to help refocus any international squad. 

Uruguay is the stumbling block here. Apart from the fact that Uruguay is a South American heavyweight, this clash will feature an Argentina squad with significantly less capped players for the national team.
Does that mean a shortage of talent? Definitely not. So long as whoever comes in to play can contain the likes of Luis Suarez and co, I think they'll be fine.

Venezuela currently sit bottom, while Peru sit 7th place and 5 points off a qualifying spot. When I say we can't underestimate anyone, I mean it. Peru will scrap their way to a win if need be, a which just piles on pressure in the final run of games. 

Comparing the results, it ain't all that bad.

Having a brief look at the most recent games between Argentina's upcoming opponents, and Argentina have good reasons to be optimistic. La albiceleste holds a 1-0 win over neighbours Uruguay, have drawn 2-2 with both Peru and Venezuela, while losing their first qualifying match 2-0 to Ecuador. A total of 5 points out of a possible 12, it's not great but it's not the worst record either. 

We shouldn't look down on those drawn matches, seeing as they came during a 4 match winless streak between September and November of last year. A win over Uruguay could potentially put them in second place, and in the box seat for an automatic qualification. 

In turn, they might have their tails up for their home games against the Peruvians and Venezuelans before finishing the first round away to Ecuador. 

Alternatively, they could lose to Uruguay and remain on 22 points. Their closest rivals Ecuador face Brazil next, and you have to wonder how the Brazilians will play out this campaign, seeing as they've already qualified for Russia. Will they allow a defeat to Ecuador, or will they finish on a strong note with a full strength squad?

With all due respect to Ecuador, beating the top South American nation will be a bit of a stretch should they name all their star players. Is it possible? Of course it is, but unlikely in my opinion. 

Should Argentina lose to Uruguay and Ecuador defeat Brazil, this puts Argentina in 6th and out of any qualifying. Then, and only then, should Argentina press the panic button. While sitting 5th is particularly unfavourable for the Argentinians, it still leaves them a decent chance to qualify.

South America can be ridiculously competitive, all these countries have talent players with flair and charisma, so you can't underestimate anyone. 

Whatever the case, this will be a slightly tricky run home, but I believe there is much more to Argentina than Messi. No doubt he's arguably the world's best player, but there is plenty of talent and potential for Argentina to comfortably qualify for Russia 2018. 

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