“Spain have slapped us, we have to keep working,” was the assessment of Jorge Sampaoli after watching his Argentina side dramatically collapse to a 6-1 defeat against Spain in Madrid.
Lionel Messi still just a spectator due to the muscle fatigue that ruled him out of Friday’s victory over Italy could only watch on as Argentina were ruthlessly dispatched by a Spanish side that look far more likely to enjoy success at this summer’s World Cup.
The shoots of optimism that the Italian victory had produced were swiftly wiped away and Sampaoli, who had hoped to use these games to finalise his World Cup plans has been left with plenty to ponder between now and June.
Despite a scoreline which matches Argentina’s worst ever result, during the opening 45 minutes Sampaoli would have been pleased with much of what his side did.
Spain started the brighter and stretched youngster Fabricio Bustos at right-back but it was Argentina who should have led when a stunning counter saw Gonzalo Higuaín scuff a golden opportunity from Maxi Meza’s cross.
Meza, impressive on his international debut, provided a spark throughout the first half but Argentina still found themselves behind.
Diego Costa powered in an opening goal after eleven minutes and in the process collided with goalkeeper Sergio Romero, forcing the Argentina number one off. Willy Caballero, who had excelled against Italy, was only on the pitch for some minutes before he was picking the ball out of the net after a poor clearance was swiftly passed through his defence for Isco to tap in.
Nicolás Otamendi headed a goal back before half time to breathe some life into Argentina but it proved to be a false dawn.
A punt forward was enough to dissect Otamendi and the horribly out of form Marcos Rojo and while Iago Aspas was forced wide by Caballero the forward was able to cut the ball back for Isco to add Spain’s third.
Minutes later and further shambolic defending saw Thiago Alcântara smash in number four. Sergio Ramos had a fifth harshly ruled out but Argentina would soon gift another goal regardless.
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David de Gea’s long clearance drifted over Rojo’s head and Aspas could poke the ball past Caballero for the most simple and amateurishly defended goal imaginable. While La Albiceleste were still contemplating how bad the fifth was, Spain went and added another with Isco completing a hat-trick and with fifteen minutes remaining the only question remaining was whether a new record defeat would be entering the books.
Argentina managed to avoid that embarrassment but with the mitigating circumstances of altitude when Argentina lost 6-1 to Bolivia in 2009, there were no excuses in Madrid.
Lionel Messi and Sergio Agüero might have been missing but for a side who many still suggest are contenders for the World Cup, Argentina were in disarray.
Sampaoli introduced a number of second half substitutes, like Racing youngster Lautaro Martínez but quite what he would have garnered from this is anyone’s guess.
“We have to take charge of this game, these things cannot happen to us at the World Cup,” Sampaoli told reporters after the game.