2018 FIFA World Cup: Argentina's report card for the group stage
Argentina are one of the powerhouses in South America having won the FIFA World Cup twice (1978 and 1986). They have always been an entertaining side to watch out for. In the 2014 World Cup, Argentina lost 1-0 to Germany in the final and hence were denied an opportunity to increase their World Cup tally to 3.
Having experienced campaigners such as Aguero, Di Maria, and Mascherano who are at their prime, Argentina are expected to win the 2018 FIFA World Cup. They are an unpredictable side who are superb on a particular and completely fizzle out on the other. Probably playing his last World Cup, Lionel Messi is widely expected by the Argentinian fans to take their team towards World Cup glory.
Argentina suffered a severe setback when their first choice goal-keeper Sergio Romero was ruled out of the tournament due to a knee injury. Nahuel Guzman was selected as his replacement for the World Cup. The current Argentinian side is a blend of youth and experience and is a one-man army led by Lionel Messi.
Journey through the group stage
Argentina started their campaign with a game against Iceland at the Otikrytiye Arena on June 16. The match ended in a 1-1 draw as Iceland defended stubbornly. Surprisingly, Lionel Messi misses a crucial penalty.
The second game against Croatia was a complete disaster, having lost the game 3-0. The Croatian midfield left Argentina's midfield helpless, defence scattered and Messi isolated. Caballero's crucial mistake handed an easy goal for Croatia and gave them much needed momentum to score two more goals. Otamendi, known for his defensive prowess was ineffective and hence gave his worst defensive display in the match.
In their crucial game against Nigeria, Messi silenced his critics scored a delightful goal from his weaker right foot. Nigeria equalized in the 51st minute from the penalty area but were denied a well-earned draw when Marcos Rojo scored a fantastic goal with his weaker right foot out of nowhere.
Let us rate Argentina's performance in every aspect in the group stage out of 10:
Goal-keeping - 4/10
In the first game against Iceland, Caballero conceded a goal which could have been stopped. Against Croatia, Caballero made a horrible error and gifted a goal to them and was also unable to stop the other the other two goals.
He was replaced in the third match against Nigeria by Franco Armani who made decent saves and kept Argentina in the hunt. He will probably be their preferred choice for the Round of 16.
All in all, considering their individual goal-keeping performances, 4 is a fair score out of 10.
Defence - 5/10
The Argentinian defence was decent in the first game against Iceland as they kept possession and rotated the ball perfectly.
In their second game against Croatia, the defence was all over the place. Except for the goal-keeping error for the first goal, the Argentinian defence was responsible for conceding the other two goals against Croatia.
Against Nigeria, they defended quite well. Rojo was the standout performer as he stood like a rock in front of Nigeria's attack and also scored the second goal which won the match for Argentina.
Keeping in mind their dismal performance against Croatia, their improved performance against Nigeria was a consolation.
Midfield - 6/10
The Argentinian midfield kept possession and switched the ball perfectly from one wing to the other in their first match against Iceland.
In their second match, the Croatian midfield consisting of Rakitic and Modric outplayed the Argentinian midfield and hence Croatia hammered Argentina 3-0.
Against Nigeria despite Mascherano conceding a penalty, Argentina's midfield played brilliantly and Banega's excellent through ball led to Messi scoring his first goal at the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
Despite bleeding, Mascherano played the entire and hence showed his commitment which led to 2-1 victory for Argentina. Di Maria was the only midfielder who didn't have a good game against Nigeria.
Hence, their performance in the midfield deserves a 6/10.
Attack - 7/10
The attackers of Argentina started the World Cup terrifically with Aguero scoring in the 19th minute. Messi missed a crucial penalty in that game against Iceland which cost Argentina an important victory.
In the second game against Croatia, the Argentinian attack gave a lacklustre performance and clearly missed Di Maria. Messi was also denied any opportunity or space to operate with Rakitic continuously man marking him.
In the last match of the group against Nigeria, Messi silenced the critics and opened his goal account by giving Argentina the lead in the 14th minute. Argentina's strikers especially Lionel Messi found their goal-scoring form towards the fag end of the group stage.
Overall performance - 5.5 /10
Argentina's group consisting of Croatia, Nigeria, and Iceland was considered the group of death by experts. Being regarded as one of the favourites to lift the World Cup, Argentina gave a roller-coaster performance in the group stage.
They were expected to win against Iceland which resulted in a 1-1 draw, give a tough battle to Croatia which resulted in a disastrous 3-0 loss and were finally able to win against Nigeria 2-1 and securing their place in the knockout stages.
In all the group stage matches, Argentina were dependent on Messi to create opportunities for them which he did and scored in the final group stage game against Nigeria.
Having given a below-par performance in the group stage, Argentina have their tasks cut out against France in the Round of 16 on Saturday.