Awful Argentina

Awful Argentina
FIRING BLANKS: Argentina forward Sergio Aguero (above) reacting after missing a shot against Iran.

1. CREAKY DEFENCE

At the risk of comparing Argentina to England, the South Americans' strategy has always been to rely on an adventurous attacking line-up to compensate for a brittle defence.

Alejandro Sabella's counter-attacking approach works only if his side batter the opposition into submission. When they don't, the back four turn jittery.

Ezequiel Garay and Federico Fernandez rarely looked comfortable when faced by Iran's counter-attacking of their own.

Reza Ghoochannejad troubled them almost as much as his name troubles sub-editors.

Only the solid stopping of Sergio Romero, who made two terrific saves, denied Iran a victory that might not have been entirely undeserved.

2. PATCHY WING PLAY

Again, there are comparisons to England here, but Argentina's fullbacks struggled to get behind Iran's 4-5-1 formation.

Marcos Rojo occasionally trotted forward to help Angel di Maria, but Pablo Zabaleta was strangely subdued.

A shadow of his usual imperious self in a Manchester City jersey, Zabaleta rarely ventured forward on the right.

That particular flank offered so little productivity that Sabella made a double substitution in the second half and tweaked the formation to fix the imbalance. To compound matters, Zabaleta didn't really cover himself in glory in his own half either.

3. MIDFIELD MEDIOCRITY

Javier Mascherano is at his ankle-chomping, irascible best when he's pestering, chasing, harrying and annoying. He hounds midfielders, tugs away at them like a clinging schoolboy.

But his display against Iran was uncharacteristically tame. Iran's trio in central midfield ensured the Barcelona enforcer always had company around the centre circle, but he usually savours the close attention.

But, as the game progressed, the Iranians increasingly took charge. Di Maria has always been a bit of a lightweight in defensive terms, but he drifted away in the Belo Horizonte breeze.

Fernando Gago was the most incisive passer of the three, but his fitness remains an issue. By the knockout stages, Gago must get a stranglehold on central midfield.

4. MISFIRING MAIN MEN

Sergio Aguero cut a frustrated figure on the left side of a front three, struggling to make an impression against a resolute Iranian defence. He had an off-day, as did Lionel Messi apart from his last-gasp winner.

But Gonzalo Higuain had an anonymous day. Sabella had assumed his defence would occupy his strategic planning, but there is a flaw at the apex. He was called into the side to replace Maxi Rodriguez, who had toiled for no reward against Bosnia and Herzegovina.

But Higuain had registered as an attacking upgrade. He didn't register at all. He contributed little for Aguero and Messi and rarely threatened the Iranian goal. He's the leading candidate to be "rested" against Nigeria.

5. SABELLA OUT-FOXED

The Argentina coach expected a defensive Iranian line-up. What he didn't expect was Carlos Queiroz granting the athletic Asians a licence to press forward when in possession.

As the game progressed, Iran looked the likelier winners through either Shojaei or Ghoochannejad as the Argentinians continued to back-pedal.

Sabella's late substitutions certainly altered the game's complexion, but Romero's reflexes and Messi's left foot saved him.


This article was first published on June 23, 2014.
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