It might be a stretch to suggest that Argentina didn’t miss Lionel Messi but Gerardo Martino’s side produced a performance more than worthy of the 2-1 win it earned against Chile on Monday night. Yes, the first half was a little ragged at times and Chile had their chances but there was an intensity to the team and certainly on the counter, La Albiceleste broke with real pace and purpose. It was far from a perfect display but three points from undoubtedly the most difficult of the group games not only puts Argentina in the driving seat but serves as a timely confidence boost. Improvements will be needed (not only the return of Messi) if the 23-year wait for a trophy is to be ended but several of the squad showed a good level for a tournament opener.
Sergio Romero – 6
Despite growing calls for his replacement, Romero rarely lets down Argentina and for 93 minutes in Santa Clara, the Manchester United second choice was excellent. His first half save to deny Alexis Sánchez ensured the two sides went into half time goalless but Chiquito was certainly at fault for Chile’s injury time consolation. Claiming crosses has never been a strong point but the 29-year-old made a real hash of the late free kick and gifted José Pedro Fuenzalida a goal.
Gabriel Mercado – 6.5
Another solid enough performance from the River Plate defender as the 29-year-old appears to further cement his place as first choice right back under Martino. Defensively Mercado did what was needed and Argentina’s surprise leading goal scorer in World Cup qualification got forward well when he could.
Nicolás Otamendi – 7
Still not the greatest passer out of defence but that was never really Nicolás Otamendi’s game so the several wayward long passes can be excused. Vargas and Sánchez made life difficult during the first half but the 28-year-old was a powerful last line of defence and should have had a clean sheet to celebrate.
Ramiro Funes Mori – 5.5
Improved after the break but a blunder in the first half probably should have cost Argentina a goal. Comfortable on the ball as always, the Everton defender’s passing was not quite on point on Monday night and he had one of his less impressive matches. Funes Mori is always susceptible to the odd blip and thankfully this went unpunished.
Marcos Rojo – 6.5
After a difficult opening period where Alexis Sánchez looked to run into the channel between Rojo and Funes Mori, the Manchester United full back recovered well. If the 26-year-old was a good crosser of the ball, he would be a superb outlet down the left but on several occasions his final ball was lacking. Rojo did contribute to the attack however and came close to scoring on two occasions.
Javier Mascherano – 7.5
It becomes sort of taken for granted now but Javier Mascherano was the destructive presence in front of the back four that snuffed out any danger and really kept the Chilean midfield quiet. A number of vital blocks and tackles protected what is not the greatest of defences in world football and El Jefecito should receive credit for that.
Augusto Fernández – 7
Drafted in as Lucas Biglia’s replacement, Augusto Fernández provided a solid foundation alongside Mascherano for Argentina to nullify the threat of Arturo Vidal. A good passer of the ball, the Atlético Madrid midfielder kept things simple and let those in front of him carry the team forward.
Nicolás Gaitán – 7.5
Replacing the world’s best player in the Argentina starting eleven is no easy task but Nicolás Gaitán proved that he is in Gerardo Martino’s squad on merit. The Benfica midfielder hit the crossbar in the opening stages and provided width and pace to the Albiceleste attack, drawing a huge amount of fouls in and around the penalty area.
Éver Banega – 8
After a sloppy first half some were questioning why Banega struggles to reproduce his sensational club form in an Argentina shirt. However, after the break the 27-year-old began to control the pace of the game and was central to the attack. It was his tackle and assist that created the opener for Ángel Di María and he was in the right place to hammer home the second, albeit with the help of a deflection. The Rosario native has a good understanding with Messi and so even when the captain returns, Martino will look to Banega to set the tempo.
Ángel Di María – 8.5
Hearing his grandmother had died just hours before the game cannot have been easy for Ángel Di María but in the absence of Lionel Messi, the Paris St Germain speed merchant stepped up and led Argentina to victory. A goal and an assist were his reward for his display but he was the source of nearly all La Albiceleste’s offensive threat. Alejandro Sabella knew how to get the best from El Fideo and on Monday night, roaring forward on the break, supporters saw that again.
Gonzalo Higuaín – 7
Not the easiest evening leading the line, Higuaín didn’t receive a great deal of service but that didn’t stop the in-form striker linking up play neatly and tirelessly running in behind. One real opening in the second half was well saved by Claudio Bravo but a really clear opportunity never presented itself.
Sergio Agüero – Just a little cameo for Agüero but the Manchester City striker looked sharp. A couple of nice touches and one shot on his weaker foot that flashed over.
Érik Lamela – Nearly added a third but not enough to really go on after replacing Di María late on.
Matías Kranevitter – Only a couple of minutes for young Kranevitter.
Gerardo Martino – 8
Credit where it’s due, Gerardo Martino got it right against Chile. In the absence of Messi, Tata went with Di María, Banega and Gaitán to support Higuaín and the result was an excellent display of counter attacking football. Augusto and Mascherano won the midfield battle and although the defence still looked a little fragile in the first half, La Albiceleste ran out clear winners.