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Can Argentina bounce back and make it to the knockout stage?

1.23K   //    26 Jun 2018, 16:30 IST


A brutal loss has spurred the hopes of many Argentinian fans around the globe, but some are still holding out hopes that Argentina might yet bounce back and win this group at the 2018 World Cup. Lionel Messi has surpassed expectations before, and could yet lead his team to a glorious victory on the pitch, but the odds facing Argentina are rather grim as it prepares for its upcoming game against Nigeria.

Here’s everything a die-hard fan needs to know about Argentina’s chances to mount an epic comeback in its upcoming match against Nigeria, and what Messi-watchers are looking out for ahead of the forthcoming clash.

A comeback is desperately needed

It’s worth noting that Argentina has seen better days. After the team’s early momentum was ground to a halt in a match against Iceland, which witnessed both teams draw even without any scoring, Argentina took a massive blow in the form of a 3-0 loss to Croatia. When Messi and his team were blown apart by the Croatians, fans around the world groaned as they saw their prospects sink down the drain.

Things aren’t entirely over for Argentina, however; an upcoming match against Nigeria, which has been putting on a good show thus far, offers the Argentinians a lifeline. Nigeria soundly beat Iceland 2-0 on Friday, which means it must face off against Messi and his teammates before it can claim first place in Group D. Croatia has a healthy lead, however, and will doubtlessly keep up its onslaught before Group D draws to a close. If Argentina can pull things together for long enough for Messi to mount an impressive offensive, the World Cup may yet see another unexpected twist and turn.

Nigeria could still potentially win Group D if they trounce Argentina in its upcoming match, but it would need a massive goal difference in order to do so. Most eyes are still on Croatia, but it’s not uncalled for to say that Argentina could yet pull through Group D without getting eliminated. After its disastrous loss to Croatia, many were counting the Argentinian team out, but a blow to morale can sometimes light a fire under players and motivate them to reach new heights.

There are many reasons that Argentina shouldn’t be undercounted, and virtually all of them start with “Lionel Messi.” Messi remains one of the world’s most popular players for good reasons – namely, he’s an incredible piece of talent to have on the pitch, and can surprise even the most seasoned veterans when given the right opportunities by his teammates. An early statistical analysis by FiveThirtyEight had Argentina as the team to beat in Group D’s proceedings, and while things may have gotten off to a fishy start, the team could nonetheless prove fierce in its upcoming contest with Nigeria.

Messi can’t do it alone

As good as he may be, however, Lionel Messi can’t singlehandedly win the 2018 World Cup. For Argentina to bounce back in this World Cup and win this group, the entire team needs to put in an effort, unlike anything we’ve seen thus far. To say that things got off to a poor start would be the understatement of the year; to be blunt, Argentina flopped like a fish out of water, and watching them get annihilated by Croatia grew to be downright painful. The team will nonetheless be packing a fierce punch when it goes toe to toe with Nigeria soon.

If Messi wants to claim his first senior international tournament title, he’ll need support from his teammates and some all-star coaching. In that regard, fans of Argentina may have something to worry about. Chatter is already beginning to circulate that the team’s players have completely lost faith in Jorge Sampaoli.

If the rumours are true that Argentinian players were actually asking for the total ousting of Jorge Sampaoli, it’s unlikely the team can get things together before its rapidly approaching match with Nigeria. A team divided from the top on down is unlikely to thrive once the game’s kicked off. As good as Messi may be, he can’t realistically be expected to simultaneously work miracles on the pitch and coach the team. It’s not unfair that fans are upset at Sampaoli, either, though all that really matters is whether the team can collect itself under new leadership in time to save its World Cup prospects.

As Argentina hurdles at full speed towards its matchup with Nigeria, don’t expect the dysfunction currently plaguing the team to end. Lionel Messi is a world-class star, but improper coaching can be the kiss of death during minor tournaments, let alone during the World Cup. Argentina may yet bounce back and win this group, but a solid performance by Nigeria that exploits Argentina’s leadership deficit could put an early end to Lionel Messi’s World Cup ambitions.

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