Argentina had a very strong first half today, and this was very much due to the fact that Javier Mascherano has been employed in his natural defensive midfield position. Today vs the Netherlands he disrupted many of their attacks, preventing them from playing their fierce counter-attacking football and took Arjen Robben out of his element (also making a last ditch tackle that prevented him from scoring in the last five minutes). Furthermore, Wesley Sneijder had tracked back quite a bit to help defend against Messi runs, assisting the not so fully fit Nigel de Jong in his defensive duties at midfield.
That said, here was the theme throughout the entire match: Argentina could not take advantage of the Dutch’s inability to attack – and anyone could tell that they truly missed Di Maria’s pace which surely would have haunted the slower Dutch defenders like winger turned wingback Dirk Kuyt. Lavezzi played well, but he is not as great of a dribbler as Di Maria, and neither is Gonzalo Higuain. Tactically it would have made more sense for Messi to start at the right wing to let Higuain work at center striker as he does for Napoli. Or, alternatively, let Messi play a free role from the midfield (like Neymar does at times for Brazil), or similarly to how Di Maria has been employed by Argentina (and Real) so that they could at least have some ability to create chances from the midfield.
Later in the match it was interesting that Alejandro Sabella took off Higuain to put in Aguero, especially considering that Gonzalo had seemingly found his stride as the game went on – and also because Aguero’s fitness has not always been at 100%. That move clearly suggested that Sabella and Argentina were content to play conservatively and believed that their attack could get it done in extra time or in the last ten minutes (or in penalties).
This was the safe move, and it really shouldn’t be criticized, and despite all the reports that he isn’t an adequate coach (and that Messi coaches them), he should ultimately be praised for getting Argentina as far as he has in this World Cup. When he subbed Maxi Rodriguez for Lavezzi, I thought it was a great move – Maxi plays with exceptional energy which is exactly what teams need in extra time. And fortunately for him, he powered a penalty kick in after 120 minutes.
Throughout the match, I eagerly anticipated a moment of brilliance from either Robben or Messi, but both teams understandably played without taking risks, and in doing so went against Nike’s slogan to “risk everything” and this lead to penalty kicks (soccer’s ultimate fallacy). Ultimately though, I believe that this is one of the most exciting World Cup finals in a very long time as it will decide whether or not Messi can take the title of “best player of all time.”