Argentina narrowly squeezed by a talented Belgium side on an eighth minute goal from Gonzalo Higuain Saturday afternoon in Brasília to reach the World Cup semifinals, and it was the play from the team’s midfield that prohibited the Red Devils from finding the back of the net. If the Argentines are to go on and win two more games to hoist the World Cup, it will be on the strength of the side’s incredibly talented midfield.
It’s no secret to opposing sides that Lionel Messi is the engine that makes Argentina run. Messi is brilliant at manufacturing space and creating chances for himself, but the world’s best player is even more efficient when his midfield is playing well. Against Belgium, La Albiceleste was brilliant in the middle third, pressing the Belgians high up the pitch and winning the ball back with space to create chances. When Messi’s supporting cast is playing this way, the team is nearly impossible to knock off. Winning the ball in the midfield creates plenty of opportunities to find Messi’s feet, a dangerous proposition for opposing defenses.
Argentina could potentially suffer a crucial loss if Ángel di María is unable to recover in time for the semifinal match, however, as the Real Madrid midfielder suffered a thigh injury in the 33rd minute and was replaced by Enzo Perez. Perez was solid enough in his place, but holding midfielders Javier Mascherano and Lucas Biglia should have both been in contention for man of the match honors. Both players did an excellent job of quelling any chance Belgium had to counterattack, and despite the size disparity between the Argentinians and Belgian players like Marouane Fellaini, did a reasonable enough job in limiting the opposing side’s chances in the air.
Fans and analysts alike have been highly critical of the Argentinian’s “Messi-dependent” strategy thus far, but it is nearly impossible to argue the results as the world’s best player has been brilliant to date. Should his midfield continue to provide him the support he has received in the team’s first five games, Argentina will be a tough side to defeat.