This hasn’t been the greatest World Cup for Argentina but the main reason so many believe they can win it, Lionel Messi, has turned up in no uncertain terms – when it counts, of course – and their route to a possible final begins with a last 16 tie against Switzerland today that could give yet more thrills and spills.
Argentina took 9 points from 9, as expected, in the group stages, but their performances were not that of a World Cup winning side – although that is a claim that can be reasonable aimed at most of the sides left in the competition – even if circumstances have been mitigating.
The wrong formation (5-3-2) made them look less cohesive than they can be against Bosnia for long periods, and while Iran gave them a serious fright that performance has now been shown to be better than it first looked with the deep lying tactics of Iran providing to be a challenge for any side (see Nigeria’s frustration in their opener). Against Nigeria, they looked far more threatening going forward, with Lionel Messi improving as he’s gone further into the tournament. Sergio Aguero’s injury is a serious blow, the Albiceste looked improved with replacement and now likely starter Ezequiel Lavezzi plenty of space and looking threatening out wide, while Enyeama – who had to be as good as he was against the same side 4 years ago – saved from Di María and from Lavezzi late on.
The worry for Argentina, however, is the rear-guard (like many had predicted before the tournament started). Pablo Zabaleta, Federico Fernandez, Ezequiel Garay and Marcos Rojo have looked porous all tournament, and against Nigeria especially they were exposed time and again down the flanks (albeit that France and Bosnia have suffered the same fate too).
Switzerland, should those flaws be in evidence again, are ideally placed to take advantage. Much has been said about their attacking options and they finally clicked when beating Honduras 3-0 in style to deal qualification from the group. Much has been said about Xeridan Shaqiri and his linking with Josef Drmic, a partnership that has been waiting to blossom, is likely to provide plenty of trouble, while Granit Xhaka is one of numerous fine technical options. Should Argentina dominate possession then Gokhan Inler will fancy his chances on the break – and so will Christian Rodriguez and Stefan Lichensteiner, who should really enjoy running at Rojo and Zabaleta especially.
However this battle is likely to be tit for that and Swizterland have their own defensive issues. Johan Djorous has never looked assured at any stage and along with Fabian Schar, was torn to shreds against France. That day they pushed recklessly high up the pitch and were exposed but Djrou struggled with balls over the top to Jerry Bengston – he nearly gave away a penalty from the same thing as Michael Cox of Zonal Marking notices here – and Lichensteiner and Rodriguez too can be caught out as both Ecuador and France showed, and this could be a real end to end battle.
The common consensus is that Argentina need to up their game at the knockout stage and that is probably correct, but knockout football is likely to suit them more with sides likely to venture forward at least one and there are deficiencies they can target. That said, they still are very vulnerable at the back and backing both sides to get on the scoresheet looks a logical option. Argentina can be caught cold but they are a tempting 13/5 shot with Coral to win without a clean sheet and that looks worth taking.
2 pts Both teams to score (10/11 general)
1 pt Argentina to win and both teams to score (13/5 Corals)