The World Cup is over for another four years and now is a time for reflection and planning ahead of the journey to Russia 2018. In Brasil, Alejandro Sabella’s side were unable to produce the type of attacking, free-scoring football they managed in qualification but reaching the Final for the first time since 1990 and narrowly losing to worthy winners, Germany represents a successful campaign. Looking back at how the squad performed, who were the success stories and who failed to live up to expectation?
Sergio Romero – 8
Romero was undoubtedly one of the success stories for Argentina and well and truly paid back the faith shown in him by Alejandro Sabella amid a lot of pre-tournament criticism.
The obvious highlight were the penalty shootout saves to deny Ron Vlaar and Wesley Sneijder to defeat the Netherlands in the Semi Final but Romero provided an assured presence throughout.
Yes, the impressive display by those in front of him meant that he was well protected but when called upon, Chiquito was up to everything that was thrown at him. A collosal 460 minutes without conceding is testament to this and saw Romero ranked fifth in World Cup history for such a run.
Agustín Orión and Mariano Andújar – N/A
Neither saw any playing time so Sabella’s potential problem of not calling up Willy Caballero did not come back to haunt him.
Pablo Zabaleta – 6.5
Manchester City’s reliable right-back grew into the tournament after a somewhat indifferent start. Perhaps on the instruction of the cautious, Alejandro Sabella, La Albiceleste did not see much of the marauding Zabaleta that the Premier League is used to seeing and in the group stage, the 29-year-old looked a little shaky defensively.
In spite of his lack of a contribution going forward, Zabaleta looked more assured during the clean sheets achieved in the knockout stages.
The lasting image of Zabaleta will be celebrating the hard fought Dutch victory complete with Blue and White wig and with cotton wool stuffing his mouth from the injury sustained earlier. Manchester City still have some mileage in Zabaleta but at 29, Russia will be most likely be too late and so a quality replacement is needed.
Federico Fernández – 4.5
The defence had been considered Argentina’s Achilles’ heel before the tournament and although in general this proved to be incorrect, Fede Fernández was bar far the weakest link.
Sluggish throughout the group stage, Fernández created far more work for Garay and created a general sense of panic when Argentina were under attack. It came as no surprise that Argentina were far more secure once Sabella made the bold mid-tournament decision to replace Fernández.
Ezequiel Garay – 8
Any question marks of Garay’s defensive capabilities were surely dispelled during Argentina’s run to the Final. The partnership with Fernández was put under serious strain but once Demechelis slotted in alongside, Garay looked solid.
Central to the clean sheets kept against Belgium and the Netherlands as well as scoring one of Argentina’s penalties in the shootout, Garay proved just what a good piece of business Zenit St Petersburg have done by signing the 27-year-old during the tournament. The €15 million that the Russian side paid looks incredibly cheap next to the €50 million Paris St Germain shelled out for David Luiz.
Marcos Rojo – 8
Another of the welcome surprises, Marcos Rojo ended up being one of the key figures and his suspension against Belgium was suddenly viewed as a serious loss. Quite a turnaround for a player who was criticized before the tournament and pin-pointed as a weakness that opposition attacks will exploit.
Rojo, at 24, was the youngest member of the squad and could well have nailed down the left side of defence for the next few years and earned himself a big transfer this summer with his performances.
Willing to get forward and overlap the left sided midfielder but strong and resolute in his defensive responsibilites. Rojo was superb in his closing out of Arjen Robben, who many had thought would be too much for the Argentine defence in the Semi Final.
Martín Demechelis – 7.5
One of the few surprises when Alejandro Sabella named his squad, Demechelis was a late pick but his strong late-season form for Manchester City was carried into the World Cup and his assured displays shored up an unsure Argentina defence when it needed it most.
Fede Fernández had not impressed in the previous four matches but Demechelis brought a level of leadership and organisation enabling Ezequiel Garay to concentrate on his own duties during the next three games.
Clean sheets against Belgium and the Netherlands, and almost another in the Final until Mario Götze’s late winner. Demechelis perhaps lost Götze in the build up but it still took an incredible finish from the Bayern Munich player to break Argentina’s defensive resolve.
José Basanta – 7
What was asked of José Basanta was done and from a squad player at the World Cup, you can ask for no more.
Replacing the suspended Marcos Rojo for the Quarter Final tie against Belgium, Basanta was a more than able deputy and played an important part in frustrating Marc Wilmots’ side and causing them to resort to a far more direct ‘Plan B.’
Hugo Campagnaro – 6
Tough to be too critical of Campagnaro given his only minutes were during the first half of the opening match against Bosnia and Herzegovina. Selected by Sabella as one of the three centre-backs in the failed 5-3-2.
Realising his mistake, Sabella substituted Campagnaro at half time as he switched formations but more as an indication of his own mistake.
Javier Mascherano – 9
If there was one player who epitomised Argentina’s doggedness and hunger to succeed, it was El Jefecito. The endless memes and countless #maschefacts tell their own story but Mascherano was the heart and soul of La Albiceleste en route to the final.
In the defensive midfield role protecting the back four there is no better and Macherano proved that over the course of Argentina’s 7 matches.
The countless tackles, including THAT goal saving challenge on Robben in the Semi Final, the inspirational pep-talk to Sergio Romero before the shootout, the tears of joy when Maxi blasted in the winner, the list goes on….For all these reasons, Javier Mascherano, we salute you.
Fernando Gago – 6
Gago’s role, and importantly his relation with Lionel Messi, was seen as crucial before the tournament despite his poor form at club level. However, this was never really reproduced in Brasil, leading to Gago losing his place in the starting eleven.
A decent second half in the opening game against Bosnia as a substitute gave a brief glimpse of what we had expected but the following matches were ponderous and all too predictable. With Gago alongside Mascherano, there was no thrust and any impetus to attacks was lost.
Argentina improved once Sabella drafted in Lucas Biglia and from then on Gago was introduced only as a late sub to provide reprieve to weary legs and try and maintain possession.
Ángel Di María – 6.5
Di María’s tears at the end of the Final were evidence not only of the bitter disappointment of losing but the frustration that when Argentina needed him most, injury denied him his chance of World Cup glory.
Prior to the injury against Belgium, Di María had not produced his best and although there was plenty of industry there was very little end-product. The one moment of excellence was his last-minute goal against Switzerland in the Semi Final.
Injury ended Di María’s World Cup just as it looked as though he was finding his form and was a bitter blow to Argentina. Even not at 100% Di María is a vital cog in Sabella’s Argentina and against the likes of Germany, when Argentina were looking to counter, Di María would have been a danger.
Lucas Biglia – 7.5
Biglia made do with a substitutes role during the opening four matches as Sabella stayed loyal to his more familiar midfield trio but as performances continued to stutter, Sabella knew changes were needed.
Biglia was introduced to the starting eleven for the Quarter Final against Belgium in place of Gago and immedietely provided a lift. The increase in energy, not only in winning the ball but also his willingness to move forward into space created more attacking intent.
Enzo Pérez – 7
Injury to Di María gave Enzo Pérez his opportunity and although it meant a tactical reshuffle to a 4-4-2 and Pérez having to play out of position on the right, the Benfica midfielder did not disappoint.
The versatility that Pérez displayed is a key reason for Sabella’s decision to include him so late in the squad but it proved to a wise decision.
In the critical games against Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany, Pérez was tireless in his work. Tracking back to cover Zabaleta but positive in his ability to get forward and overlap Messi, Pérez did his reputation no harm ahead of a potential big money transfer this summer.
Maxi Rodríguez – 6.5
Maxi’s experience and versatility earned him his place in Sabella’s squad and it is diffcult to be too critical of him given his minimal playing time in Brasil.
Included in the starting eleven against Bosnia and Herzegovina for the opening game, Maxi struggled with the role of playing as one of the 3 midfielders in the 5-3-2. This was more of a mistake of Sabella’s than a slight on Maxi’s ability.
Later in the tournament, he featured as a late substitute against the Netherlands and kept his cool to convert the winning penalty in the shootout. Rather than the disappointment of defeat in the Final this will be a far better memory for Maxi, whose Argentina career will undoubtedly end now.
Ricky Alvarez – 6
With only a 30 minute cameo at the end of the Nigeria game to his name, there is little to judge Ricky Alvarez on.
Perhaps a bolder manager would have given Alvarez more playing time as he would have provided a far more attacking option from midfield but it wasn’t so. At 26, Alvarez will still be around for Russia 2018 so his time may yet come.
Augusto Fernández – N/A
The only out-field player not to get any minutes so nothing to say. However, on his selection, it is difficult to see the situation where Augusto was going to play so perhaps a player who would have provided an added goal threat late in games would have been a better option.
Lionel Messi – 8
The performance of Lionel Messi has been one of the major talking points in the aftermath of the defeat to Germany. Messi’s subsequent Golden Ball honour for the best player of the tournament has been derided and for all the doubters, the World Cup has provided irrefutable proof that he has no claim to be named the ‘Greatest of All-Time.’
Messi did not light up the tournament as some had suspected, or at least not in the Semi Final and Final. But his contribution earlier is quickly overlooked. Four man of the match awards, and four goals from the first four matches, ensured Argentina’s progression.
It is also fair to say that with the other strikers faltering, far more pressure fell on Messi and led to defences being able to concentrate even more on the number 10.
Messi’s unbelievable performances before now make it difficult to judge him objectively. This wasn’t his moment of glory, his Diego 1986 moment, but without Messi, Argentina would not have reached the Final.
Gonzalo Higuaín – 7
Higuaín missed the warm-up matches through injury and as such was playing catch-up with his fitness in the early stages of the tournament.
A nice interchange with Messi to assist his goal against Bosnia and Herzegovina was really all that could be said that Pipita’s performances during the group stage.
Higuaín’s wonderfully taken winner against Belgium in the Quarter Final looked as though the Napoli striker had finally arrived and at no better time. However, sadly when it counted the most, Higuaín was guilty of missing perhaps the best chance in the Final.
Snatching at his shot when through on goal is perhaps the lasting memory of Higuaín at the World Cup. Things may have been very different if Argentina had had an in-form Higuaín leading the line.
Sergio Agüero – 5.5
Without question one of the biggest disappointments of the tournament. Whether it was injury or off-field distractions the Sergio Agüero that played in Brasil was not the same one that has had such a lethal combination with Lionel Messi in the past.
From the five matches that Kun played a part in he was anonymous. Considering his bustling, energetic style ordinarily this is very much out of character and his failure to perform at the World Cup is a major reason for Argentina’s lack of attacking threat in so many matches.
In fact, the one moment of note during the campaign was probably that Agüero was fortunate not to be sent off in the Final. Already on a yellow card, a stray hand left Bastian Schweinsteiger with a cut face.
Ezequiel Lavezzi – 7
Lavezzi plays an important role for Argentina not just for his on-pitch abilities which stretches play and occupies defenders but as the squad clown which is an asset in itself during the weeks that the group are together for the tournament.
The clips of Lavezzi squirting Alejandro Sabella or mimicking his famous fall in training are perhaps his individual highlights but in the absence of Agüero, Lavezzi was crucial to the attack.
Criticised for being too narrow and flat in the games before Lavezzi’s inclusion, the Paris St Germain attacker provided a welcome injection of energy in the final third.
When switching to the 4-4-2 later in the tournament he showed the discipline also to track back and assist Rojo. In hindsight, Sabella’s tactical decision to replace him at half time for Agüero in the Final was an error.
Rodrigo Palacio – 6
Like Higuaín, Palacio will most likely be remembered in this World Cup for his miss in the Final. With the chance to become an Argentine legend, Palacio fluffed his lines and his attempted lob of Manuel Nueur sailed harmlessly wide.
Palacio is not the greatest of strikers but his willingless to be a bit-part player of the squad without causing any unrest is useful. His industry and directness from the bench is an asset late in games against tired legs but there was little of that in Brasil.
Except for winning the ball back on halfway and feeding Messi to create Di María’s winner against Switzerland there was very little of note regarding Palacio’s contribution.