Throughout this quarter-final encounter, the presence of Lionel Messi brought about a familiar feel. The diminutive winger receiving the ball in a wide position, the mood of the stadium shifts to one of expectation, the opposition defence takes shape in expectance of the imminent attacking threat as the reigning World Player of the Year launches his latest offensive venture. But the Messi on the international stage appears to take on a different role to the one he holds in Pep Guardiola’s all-conquering Barcelona side. Although the 24-year-old attacker is seen as the flagship attacking threat in both sides, he would appear to be seen as far more talismanic in the Argentina side, rather than a key component in a well drilled, dominant Barcelona unit.
While it can be argued that this is typical of the modern game, with club sides afforded the luxury of time to work on combinations on a day-to-day basis, Messi’s performance against Uruguay showed the individual brilliance of the player, but often saw him frustrated by the absence of the link-up he plays such a starring role in on the domestic front. Although it was Messi’s cross for Argentina’s 17th-minute goal, with three players drawn to the ball, Messi’s centre found the Higuain to head home, it proved to be a fleeting moment of understanding between Messi and his colleagues. As Argentina continued to be frustrated by Uruguay’s stubborn resistance, personified by the performance of Uruguayan goalkeeper, Fernando Muslera, Argentina at times appeared to look to Messi to settle the tie almost single-handedly. On numerous occasions, Messi would receive the ball on the right, defenders would stand back in anticipation of Messi’s next move, only for their stance to be almost echoed by the Argentinian players. Messi’s runs were often lacking in players moving off him, unlike the free-flowing movement of the likes of Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Pedro and David Villa.
While Messi showed flashes of his individual brilliance, skipping past challenge after challenge with relative ease, at times only containable by conceding free-kicks, it ultimately proved futile, as Messi’s best intentions were not supported by his fellow Argentina stars. An undoubtedly talented squad, Argentina will need to find the best combination of attacking talent if they are to maximise the effictiveness of the widely-regarded best player in the world.