A substandard team on display, Messi missing the penalty against Croatia last Thursday night shows his inability to make chances count.
Lionel Messi missing a penalty may be incredible and inexcusable but can still be attributed to mortal error. But the way the Argentine superstar, arguably the world’s best footballer of all time, has been underperforming along with his team, has disappointed millions of fans around the world. No magic tricks by this wonder boy, only a reticent, reconciled angsty expression as his team fell to a humiliating 0-3 defeat at the hands of the much lesser Croatia. That this legendary South American unit is facing a group stage outer first time in 16 years is stunning, especially with Messi at the helm. The five-time Ballon d’Or winner, who has won almost everything with Barcelona at the Club level, has been struggling to play his natural game in his national jersey, fuelling speculation of his imminent retirement from national duty after this world cup. Yes, the opposition systematically marks him relentlessly but he is Messi because he has the expertise to escape with the ball and create wonders. Messi’s helplessness to make impossible chances count has been constantly teamed up with the poor display by his teammates, making Leo’s elusive dream of winning an international trophy for Argentina a far cry. Thanks to the missed penalty against Iceland by the Barcelona forward who turned 31 on last Sunday, La Albiceleste is now facing tough crisis to stay in contention in the tournament. The Golden Ball winner of the previous edition failed to utilize the chance because of which Iceland managed to hold the two-time champions for a 1-1 draw. And after brutal thumping by Croatia on Thursday night, their worst defeat in 60 years at the group stage in World Cup, the side considered favourites to lift the Cup is staring an early exit.
Startlingly, Messi recorded the fewest touches of the ball against Croatia. With Argentina failing to open up a supply line to their best player, Messi touched the ball just 49 times in comparison to 116 times in the first game. This was also the least involvement he has had in a match when he has played the full 90 minutes. While playing for Barcelona in La Liga last season, he averaged 83.2 touches of the ball per match. It was not only that Messi hardly had the ball; he barely did anything with it either. A player with 616 career goals only managed one shot in the game which was his joint worst ever shooting contribution in a full World Cup match — level with the semi-final win over The Netherlands four years ago. In fact, it took him 64 minutes to get the only shot in the match against Croatia. In La Liga’s last season he averaged 5.9 shots per game. He managed just two touches in Croatia’s box; in La Liga, it was nine per game. And he created two chances; in La Liga, he was averaging 2.6. The statistics clearly show that far from playing to Messi’s strengths, Argentina effectively neutered him. The poor performance of other members of the side and Sampaoli’s surreptitious tactics has invited violent criticism. Former Manchester City full-back Pablo Zabaleta said the side’s failure to “play quicker” left Messi “isolated” in the final third. Messi’s former Barcelona team-mate Cesc Fabregas called Argentina a “broken team” and questioned its team spirit, saying they were “playing against each other, not for each other”
Writer and Courtesy: The Pioneer