While Argentina does not lack in quality attacking players, the quality sure seemed to be missing today against Germany when it was needed the most. The glaring misses by Gonzalo Higuain and Rodrigo Palacio coupled with the overall ineffectiveness of Sergio Aguero are important reasons why they did not lift the World Cup trophy on Sunday.
The two misses were stunningly bad as it seemed like nerves may have gotten the best of both Higuain and Palacio. Higuain’s opportunity came off a brutal mistake by Toni Kroos that had seen Higuain in on net behind the German defense because he had been in an offside position. Due to Kroos’ error, Higuain was onside and alone with only German goalkeeper Manuel Neuer to beat. He had time to take and make the shot, but his shot went wide. Like his early goal in the game against Belgium, Higuain had a chance to put his team ahead in the 21st minute, but this time he was unable to live up to the moment.
Argentina manager Alejandro Sabella subbed on Palacio for Higuain in the 78th minute as Higuain struggled to make his mark in the contest and we were treated to Palacio’s errant chip attempt in the 97th minute.
A great cross was played in by Marcos Rojo to Palacio who had found some space in the box behind Jerome Boateng. Palacio chested the ball down and he was in on goal with only German goalkeeper Manuel Neuer to beat, which is not the easiest of challenges. Palacio, with time and space, only had to loft the ball directly over Neuer as it bounced in front of him, but he mishit it and the ball shanked wide to the left of the goal from about 10 to 12 yards away.
It’s easy to second guess roster selections because hindsight is 20/20, and Argentina made it all the way to the 2014 World Cup final with this very roster, but you can’t help but think about the omission of Carlos Tevez after seeing those missed attempts by Argentinean attackers. Tevez was left off the team because he didn’t exactly fit in, and, most importantly, has a reputation of being difficult to deal with. Would Tevez have converted either of those chances or made the far post run to one of Messi’s passes across the face of goal? We’ll never know.
The injury of Angel Di Maria, whose presence was almost as crucial as Messi’s to the Argentinean team’s success, was also sorely felt in this game. Ezequiel Lavezzi filled in admirably with Di Maria hurt, but he was strangely subbed off at halftime by Sabella for a still unfit Aguero who had severely underwhelmed during his World Cup campaign. Aguero made no impact on the game whatsoever and his introduction came far too early.
Messi is not free from criticism either as he missed a close chance on net by about one foot to show us a rare absence of the clinical finishing that has mesmerized many for so long.
The close misses like those we saw from Higuain, Palacio and Messi on Sunday are magnified due to the stakes of this game and they are the toughest to swallow. In the end, Argentina was beaten by a better German side, but you can bet that Argentina will feel they let a chance at glory slip away.