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Can Lionel Messi become an Argentina hero?

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Tim Vickery | 10:32 UK time, Monday, 5 March 2012

Argentina will be hoping Lionel Messi is finally starting to transform his stunning club form with Barcelona to the international arena following his magnificent hat-trick in the 3-1 win against Switzerland.

The hints were there late last year, in the second half of the World Cup qualifier away to Colombia, and now the Switzerland game has surely consolidated the Messi-Sergio Aguero link-up at the heart of the Argentine attack.

The pair have had a natural rapport for years, built up when they roomed together during the 2005 World Youth Cup, and now that understanding is clearly visible on the pitch through their pacy, dazzling exchanges.

Away to an adventurous Swiss side, there was space for the pair of them to explode on the counter-attack. Against more cautious opponents there could well be the need for the greater penalty area presence of Gonzalo Higuain.

In that case, Messi and Aguero can form an attacking trident with the Real Madrid man.
Indeed, that was the way they were set up in the second half against Colombia, when the introduction of Aguero at the break changed the game, giving Messi someone to combine with when he dropped deep in search of possession.

More than any tactical innovations, Argentina will hope the Switzerland match proves important in psychological terms. Messi has enjoyed some excellent games for Argentina in the past, but this was the first time that the headlines in the local press proclaimed that he had produced his Barcelona form for the national team.

Messi has made over 67 appearances for Argentina, scoring 22 goals. Photo: Getty

This is significant because almost the only place in the world where the presence of Messi is not guaranteed to fill a stadium is in the land of his birth. He tries hard to identify himself with Argentina, with the city of Rosario and the Newells Old Boys club.

However, when performances are disappointing, he meets with resistance from his own people, who are quick to seize on the fact that he has been based in Barcelona from the age of 13.

"You're not really one of us," they seem to be saying. "You are more Catalan than Argentine. You don't sing the national anthem or feel with passion the colours of the flag."

And it does not matter what he says. Words do not count - deeds do.

The public want to see the Messi of Barcelona, often forgetting that for the national team he does not have a Daniel Alves to burst outside him, or a Xavi and Iniesta to supply him with the ball. But he does have Aguero.

The resistance towards Messi in an extreme case, but in the proud footballing cultures of Brazil and Argentina it does not take much for the European-based players to be viewed with suspicion.

If the national team are winning in style, little attention is paid to where they play their club football. Anything less, and those who play in Europe are sometimes branded uncaring mercenaries.

In any case, the call will always come for the selection of more home-based players.
This is a political reality the coach has to deal with - especially in contemporary Brazil, where with the clubs paying top wages there are more viable candidates for the national team playing their football for domestic clubs.

Last year, for example, Brazil boss Mano Menezes could hardly afford not to recall Ronaldinho to the national team. The former world player of the year had moved back home to join Flamengo, the country's most popular club.

Around the middle of the year he found flickers of form. Brazil, meanwhile, had done badly in the Copa America and were not looking good in friendlies- giving Ronaldinho another chance became a political necessity.

Against Ghana at Craven Cottage last September it was soon apparent that he was off the pace. The rhythm of international football, as Menezes commented after the match, is more intense than that of the domestic Brazilian game.

He gave an interesting performance against Mexico late last year, organising from a deeper position, but his reign as first-choice number 10 may well have come to an end with an unimpressive display in last Tuesday's 2-1 win over Bosnia.

By now Ronaldinho has ceased to be the public's sweetheart, his credibility undermined by a dip in club form and his night time escapades. Mano Menezes gave him enough rope, and can now cut him loose if he chooses because he has Paulo Henrique Ganso of Santos ready to step up.

Brazil's game against Bosnia flowed much better after Ganso replaced Ronaldinho for the last half hour. The elegant left footer is a wonderful prospect - so much so that he too has also been at the centre of the nationalist debate.

When Ganso came through strongly two years ago, the Sao Paulo press were falling over themselves to praise him. He was, they said, already the best in the world in his position, a left-footed reincarnation of Zinedine Zidane.

It was conveniently forgotten that he was only shining in a desperately poor version of the Sao Paulo State Championship, and against poor opponents in the Brazilian Cup.
The problem was that the player appeared to believe his own publicity. Then came the reality check.

The subsequent two years have been filled with injuries and excellent learning opportunities - such as a disappointing Copa America and the experience of playing against Barcelona last December.

History could decide that Mano Menezes has played shrewdly with the political forces, using Ronaldinho as a shield while also holding back Ganso until the time was right for a natural transition in the ownership of Brazil's number 10 shirt.

Comments on the piece in the space provided. Questions on South American football to vickerycolumn@hotmail.com, and I'll pick out a couple for next week. From last week's postbag:

Q) I would say most Colombians are happy with the scoreline after the 2-0 win over Mexico, but I was disappointed in Colombia's style of play. I was expecting a build up from the back, short passing, and a possession game from Jose Pekerman. Instead there was a lot of counter-attacking. Are Colombia going to be a counter-attacking team from now on?
Fernando Fernandez

A) It's worth remembering that they were up against a Mexico side that really came at them, and the next two World Cup qualifiers are away from home, against Peru and Ecuador. So there's no harm in an early focus on the counter -attack, with the excellent Darlon Pabon high up the pitch on the flanks where he can do most damage. I was also pleased Juan Cuadrado played from the start - I think they've missed the kind of unpredictability he can bring. Aldo Leao Ramirez was the surprise inclusion, there to knit the game together from midfield - an indication that long-term Pekerman is looking beyond the counter.

Q) Chile's Milovan Mirosevic has signed with my adopted MLS team, Columbus Crew. Everyone seems very excited by his signing - calling him a designated player without the pricetag. He is also, inevitably, being dubbed the next Guillermo Barros Schelotto. Is he that good? Does he have the ability make the Crew a contender in the MLS this year? Will he bring the leadership to the Crew that they have been missing?
Ben Dettmar

A) I remember being really excited by Mirosevic when I saw him for the first time as a teenager back in 1998. He appeared to have so much - an attacking midfielder of strength and explosion, tight skills and a crashing right foot. I've seen many good performances from him over the years, but for reasons I've never understood he has not gone on to achieve as much in the game as I had hoped and expected.
I'm not sure about him as a team leader. I do not think he quite has that battle-hardened nature of Schelotto, but he's more physically dynamic and I think the club is justified in being excited about him.

Comments

Page 1 of 2

  • Comment number 1.

    Surely The Argentinians arent going down the route of putting running ballwinners in central midfield like Brazil have? They surely are able to produce some decent alternative to Xavi to help get the best out of Messi? That style of player of all I have ever seen from them so whats happened?

  • Comment number 2.

    The Messi Aguero partnership has been obvious for years. Unlike Messi/Tevez, Messi/Aguero works. Furthermore with their wealth of attacking talent, they could always bring on a Tevez or a Milito etc. I correctly predicted that Italy would win the WC in 2006 and I have a sneaky suspicion that 2014 could be Messi's year and to win it in Brazil would be even more satisfying (I suspect)

  • Comment number 3.

    I think criticism of Messi's performances for Argentina are somewhat harsh. 22 goals from 67 caps (not sure if that stat was from before the Swiss game) really is not a bad record at all, if we're talking purely about goalscoring. At the World Cup I thought his performances were good, despite the fact he didn't score. I guess the problem is that he has to live up to the Maradona Legend/Myth and be seen to carry Argentina.

    I would argue their problems as a team are more about their defensive issues than in the midfield or attack. The Ayala-Samuel partnership has gone, Zanetti is pushing 40 and Heinze is also past his best. It's at the back where Argentina need to get it right for 2014 and where they've got it wrong in recent tournaments. They need to find some defensive talent from somewhere. I honestly believe the midfield and attack with players like Aguero, Higuain, Messi, Tevez, Di Maria, Pastore, Gago, Banega available to them will take care of itself. They need to get the balance right of course- and they shouldn't attempt to copy the Barcelona blueprint just because they have Messi- but it would be the defensive pool of talent that would be of more concern to me.

  • Comment number 4.

    Excellent reading again Tim. Messi's performance against the Swiss in an Argentina shirt is an exciting prospect for international tournaments, but can Messi drag Argentina to glory just as Maradona did in 86? I for one would be very happy to see him perform like that in a major tournament as i feel it is long overdue for one player to dazzle the world again, not that i dont appreciate team play, I just feel the likes of Messi and C. Ronaldo (and Ronaldinho and Kaka before them) have failed to show their world class on an international stage like Pele, Maradona, Baggio and the "real" Ronaldo et al have done in the past.

  • Comment number 5.

    Without sounding to critical, Messi is great for Barca but only good for Argentina, it just highlights the influence Inieista and Xazi have on his game.

  • Comment number 6.

    Xavi not Xazi............ mondays!

  • Comment number 7.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 8.

    Messi simply needs to transfer his superb Barca performances to the national stage. Sure they play different to BArca, but Argentina are hardly bereft of world class players and he won't be considered a true great on par with Pele & Maradona until he has a top world cup.

  • Comment number 9.

    why do we get football blogs covering South American football? Very few actually watch football from this region.

  • Comment number 10.

    its plain to see the problem international football is so much more competitive than two team joke liga, their are more than two teams for one!

  • Comment number 11.

    #9

    Its a better read than "oh no, Luis Suarez possibly made a racist comment".
    Or "Oh no, Mario Balotelli isn't a model pro".

  • Comment number 12.

    Its obvious. Messi is a bit of a plodder.
    He trundles along for Barca, picking up goals against pub standard teams in the two team league.
    And just can't do the same on the world stage.

    Can't wait for Scholesy to show him up in 2014.

  • Comment number 13.

    he can if only Argentina would raise a midfielder strong enough to give the strikers enough ball possession to do the damage, messi is good, Aguero is fired....but they have no one to supply them with sublime lethal passes

  • Comment number 14.

    12.At 13:04 5th Mar 2012, The_Forehead_Of_Gervinho wrote:
    _______________

    If you stuck Andy "Lionheart" Carroll in the barca team, there's no doubt he would hit 40 goals per season!

  • Comment number 15.

    SuperLeedsSuperSnodders23

    Are you only interested reading articles that relate directly to things you watch regularly?

  • Comment number 16.

    SuperLeedsSuperSnodders23

    because some people like to hear about football outside of the premier league bubble. Try picking up the world football phone-in podcast and broaden your horizons a touch.

  • Comment number 17.

    Can't wait for 2014 WC (if it's built in time). Brazil with their "unproven worldclass" players Neymar, Ganso and Lucas. Argentina with their unbelievable attacking line-up with Messi, Higuain, Lopez, Aguero, Di Maria, Lavezzi and Tevez. Goals galore hopefully after the dreadful 2010 WC!

  • Comment number 18.

    14.At 13:09 5th Mar 2012, eduard_streltsov_ghost wrote:
    If you stuck Andy "Lionheart" Carroll in the barca team, there's no doubt he would hit 40 goals per season!
    ___________

    I was thinking more along the lines of Demba "Golden Boot" Ba, or Papiss "Slice into the top corner" Cisse.
    Managed by Alan "G.O.A.T" Pardew, they've been revelations. I doubt guardiola could handle such talent.

  • Comment number 19.

    17.At 13:17 5th Mar 2012, Robinellis32 wrote:
    "Argentina with their unbelievable attacking line-up with Messi, Higuain, Lopez, Aguero, Di Maria, Lavezzi and Tevez."
    ____________

    Tevez? HAH!

    Man city/ Newcastle fan.

  • Comment number 20.

    13 - good second half from fernando gago last week - kept messi supplied with quick, accurate passing

  • Comment number 21.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 22.

    9 - one or two people have been known to watch lio messi and the other wonderful players that south america produces. messi might even be a bigger draw in leeds than united!

  • Comment number 23.

    13.At 13:04 5th Mar 2012, kenN wrote:
    ___________

    Surely the likes of pastore, gago, di maria etc should be able to provide plenty of ammunition for the likes of messi, aguero, higuain?

  • Comment number 24.

    18.At 13:18 5th Mar 2012, The_Forehead_Of_Gervinho wrote:
    __________

    I doubt Guardiola would have the foresight of unearthing such gems as Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse. Not to mention the Yohan "the puppet master" Cabaye!

    Newcastle v Barcelona. Only one winner. Shola Amoebi winner! ;)

  • Comment number 25.

    I honestly don't understand why fans and soccer journalist expect that Messi must carry Argentina to a WC trophy to be considered as one of the greatest player to have graced the game.

    People need to rap their minds around the fact that football is a team sport and no single player in the modern game can carry the entire team to WC glory.
    If people think Argentina will win the WC in 2014 with the current midfield and defence, they must think again.

    It's funny that people always refer to Messi being as good as he is because of Xavi & Iniesta, and yet with the same players, Spain managed only 1-0 wins the entire WC in 2010 South Africa.
    Wasn't Villa, Pedro, Navas, Torres, Silva and Fabregas on the same team as Xavi and Iniesta in the 2010 WC, why then were they not bagging in goals left right and centre? Simply because they are not Lionel Messi, end of story.
    Re-watch all the Clasicos since Mou took over at Real Madrid, without Messi, Barcelona does not win those games.

    As Pep recently stated "from midfield to the final third, Messi is the most decisive player in world football at the moment". Nothing could be further from the truth.

    Not only do Argentina play with an awful defence but their midfield is none existent in the creativity department.

    I'm a Barca fan through and through but sad to say that with the current structure in the Argentina NT, Messi will never win a WC. Argentina might have the deadliest strike force in international football, but team wise they are the worst of the top ten.

  • Comment number 26.

    Frankly, the criticism Messi receives from the media and fair proportion of the public for his international performance is a bit too harsh. His performances always seem to be measured in terms of the goals he scores while his overall contribution to the team gets overlooked. Messi is always involved in everything Argentina do going forward whether it is to slide in the crucial defense-splitting pass/unlocking the defense or to thread in the final pass for a goal (Assists). Even in the WC 2010, he was Man of the Match in like 2 games I think (correct me if I'm wrong), so it's not like he's woefully out of his depth for his National team. If we consider all these aspects in weighing his performances, he's definitely not as bad as he's made out to be.

    Also may I add, one of the reasons for the perceived poor displays for the National team are his astronomically good performances for Barca. It's just that his National team perfomances get measured against Club performances which make his Argentine exploits look ordinary.

  • Comment number 27.

    25 - the point of friendlies - and last week's match against switzerland in particular - was the attempt to find a collective structure for argentina, to try and improve them team-wise, as you say.

    coach sabella seems to have decided on 4-4-2, though as i argue here i think there are many games where higuain will be needed up top, perhaps with messi and aguero off him in a 4-3-2-1..

    i think sabella will be pleased with the display of his new centre back partnership, fernandez and garay - though you can imagine them having problems in games where they have to play higher up the pitch.

    Midfield - as i mentioned above, I thought Gago was very interesting when he came on at half time. I wish Lamela had been given a run on the left of midfield. I can imagine him combining well with Messi, and I also thought the team badly missed a left foot on that flank - though to be fair to zabaleta, by no means a natural left back, he did supply a couple of surprising crosses.

    Still over 2 years for Sabella to find his best collective structure - snd pray for the sudden appearance of new players in weak positions, such as full back.

  • Comment number 28.

    Hi Tim, as you live in that part of the world, what is the opinion about Mano Meneses? He is doing an awful job for the Selecao. Last week against Bosnia, they lacked cohesion, teamwork, creativity, good strikes on goal. This side is a shadow of previous ones, including Dunga's sides. Neymar is overated and slight, Luiz cannot defend,they have no good strikers, midfielders are poor, both for attacking and defence. At least Dunga knew how to win and had a set plan and cohesion in the team. He could recognise good players for each position and was able to motivate them. Mano looks all at sea. How long can he last and who'd take over? Any good candidates that can prepare the team for 2014?

  • Comment number 29.

    25.
    At 13:31 5th Mar 2012, Tsivoman wrote:
    "Re-watch all the Clasicos since Mou took over at Real Madrid, without Messi, Barcelona does not win those games."
    -----------------------
    Couldn't agree more mate. It's almost unbelievable as to how important he is to this Barcelona setup. The Barca midfield, as good as it is, simply does not have the cutting edge to finish off moves. Just look at the WC2010 (Spain), pass and pass, but no goals. Messi is the guy that gives them the cutting edge, scores goals from almost impossible circumstances, and mind you also slips in the final defense splitting through ball. He's a Villa, Iniesta and Xavi combined, truly a phenomenal player. And yes, Barcaa could not have dreamt of winning some of the games against Madrid in the recent seasons of it were not for Messi.

  • Comment number 30.

    6. At 12:08 5th Mar 2012, King Red wrote:

    So presumably you'd say the same about Rooney, Ronaldo... um must be more? I think what you've said is correct but is it not that he makes a very very good team great and a not so great team pretty good?

  • Comment number 31.

    Hi tim, what about Juan Román Riquelme for argentina i know he's is now 33 and geting on a bit but he would be the perfect playmaker for this argentinan side at the moment

  • Comment number 32.

    9. I regulaly watch south american footy highlights on you tube and sometimes watch the games online if some football fans think the premier league and the champions league is everything its time to discover the magic and the flare of the south american game you might even enjoy it

  • Comment number 33.

    I personally think that for Argentina to have success against big teams in a WC or Copa tournament, is to deploy Messi as a classic 10. He has shown that he can deploy defence splitting passes that can put even the best classic midfielders to shame, add to that the fact that he can take two, three and four defenders on his own.

    Tim , I honestly don't have faith in Sabella. Yes, this was a friendly match but how do you explain him selecting Maxi Rodriguez (bench warmer at Liverpool) ahead of other decent players out there.

    Look at Spain, Germany, Netherlands and the likes Uruguay for example, they are so good collective, but follow their individual performances for their respective clubs and you start to notice how team dynamics come to play for NT. Most of these players are under-achievers at club level

    Example:
    Germany - what happened to Thomas Muller?
    - what happened to Klose?
    Netherlands - what happened to Schneider?
    Uruguay - What happened to Forlan?

    Hence I still maintain that Messi will never win a WC, not with the current Argentina NT setup.

  • Comment number 34.

    why do people still spout off he doesn't carry his barca form into the national team? dont comment unless you actually watch his performances. star man at the world cup but because he dont score it's easy for the untrained lack of footballing brains to say he never performed.

  • Comment number 35.

    10.At 13:01 5th Mar 2012, 2team_la_joke_liga wrote:
    its plain to see the problem international football is so much more competitive than two team joke liga, their are more than two teams for one!

    if madrid and barca were to be put in any other league in the world it would still be a 2 horse race....................think about it!!

  • Comment number 36.

    21.At 13:25 5th Mar 2012, The Tenth Beetle wrote:
    This is what seperates Maradona from Messi. Maradona's amazing ability dragged an average Argentina side to World Cup glory. Messi will never be able to do the same.

    http://bit.ly/oa0Vg8

    this is due to the rise in fitness and technique in modern day footballers, i mean who did maradona run past for his goal of the century? peter reid, terry butcher etc.......need i say more? think about it please!!

  • Comment number 37.

    34.
    At 14:15 5th Mar 2012, Meido wrote:

    Spot on. Most of the people criticizing Messi for his NT exploits have hardly ever watched an Argentina game live. Almost all of the criticism is based on the final stats they read from newspapers.

  • Comment number 38.

    25.At 13:31 5th Mar 2012, Tsivoman wrote:

    someone with sense i see.

    bravo!!

  • Comment number 39.

    Alan Pardew is not the G.O.A.T!!!!!!!! This is the same man who regularly picked Hayden Mullins over Mascherano and Marlon Harewood over Tevez... Marlon Harewood is probably the worst professional footballer i have ever seen.

  • Comment number 40.

    Messi will need to do it more regularly and against more testing opponents that Switzerland surely? Best player in the world clearly, but still a mystery at international level.

    I also watched Mexico vs Colombia & thought Colombia were fantastic with great style & quick, intelligent attacking combinations. Seemed to me another example of the Barcelona influence permiating throughout all parts of the world. Definitely going to keep an eye on their progress from now on!

    P.S. Told you Ronaldinho was finished last year Tim when you wrote about how he could still star for Brasil in a revised role ;-)

  • Comment number 41.

    Some posts have touched on the point without emphasising it:
    Messi isnt the footballing god most think he is! Yes, he is one of the best players in the world, but he isnt the best, let alone a great as some say. The reason he is so stunning for Barca is:
    a) The weakness of that league. Yes he has an excellent CL record, but thats becuase Barca dont have to exert themsleves domestically and can therefore produce their best in the CL as well! (note Messi hasnt been anywhere near as good this season with Barca battling Madrid domestically)
    b) Xavi! The best midfielder in the world and one of the best of all time, yet still massively underrated! Without him, Barca and Messi win nothing!

  • Comment number 42.

    I find it rather shortsighted various comments suggesting without Messi, barca are nothing, and without Xavi messi is nothing.

    They all have a role to play, and the point is they play their roles perfectly. One can not function to the same level with the absence of another. they all play their part, they need each other to implement the style imposed by Guardiola. Kudos

  • Comment number 43.

    One possibility, given the lack of a class playmaker, why not play Messi as the playmaker, sacrifice his striking ability for his play making ability so that the other attcking options might be set free

  • Comment number 44.

    Messi isnt the footballing god most think he is! Yes, he is one of the best players in the world, but he isnt the best, let alone a great as some say. The reason he is so stunning for Barca is:
    a) The weakness of that league. Yes he has an excellent CL record, but thats becuase Barca dont have to exert themsleves domestically and can therefore produce their best in the CL as well! (note Messi hasnt been anywhere near as good this season with Barca battling Madrid domestically)
    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    I would just like to emphasis that those that think he is the best are all the Footballing professionals that keep voting for him as player of the year, continuously. So why do not vote for someone else then if messi isnt the best?

    weakness of that league? behave. La Liga is considered second in europe and will move to first for next season, due to the elimination of both english teams and the spanish teams going through. I do not understand on what terms is this a weak league????

  • Comment number 45.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 46.

    #44:
    Messi keeps getting voted WPoY is my point. There is this train of thought that believes he will become the best player of all time, and therefore people's mentality is affected to the point of trying to make him that player. After all, if they dont keep voting for him, they prove themselves wrong! :-)

    Also, because Messi gets the goals and headlines, Xavi does not get the recognition he deserves. The central midfield player is the key to any of the greatest teams, and without Xavi, this Barca team just doesnt perform like it does now.

    Finally - there is a BIG difference between a strong top 2, and a strong league. Barca and Madrid are the only teams that consistently get through to the later stages of the CL, when it is usually all 4 of the English teams that do the same.

    You only have to look at how Valencia (3rd) were not able to hammer Stoke (9th) in the Europa League to show the difference in strength in depth in England. Yes they were better, but there wasnt the gulf in class you would expect for their respective league positions.

  • Comment number 47.

    @no 25 Spain were not playing against defensively inept sides in the world cup for 1 like Barcelona do most of the time in la liga. Pep Guardiola is not the manager of Spain, Del Bosque is; so different managers have different tactics. Del Bosque played with Busquets as well as Xabi Alonso in the middle of the park meaning that Xavi was played slightly more forward than he normally does amd looked slightly lost as personally I do not think that Xavi and Xabi are compatible and any time of the week I'd pick Xavi.

    Iniesta came into the tournament carrying an injury and quite why David Silva was underused, you'd have to ask Del Bosque. Fabregas and Torres came into that tournament not fully fit and we have all seen how Torres has struggled ever since.

    Messi did not exactly score in that world cup and it is not as if Argentina were struggling for creating chances, they were just disorganised at the back. Messi is a great player but he does score a lot of goals in the dying minutes when the opposition is tired.

    You mentioned that Barcelona would not beat Real Madrid without Messi but that is just conjecture as it is conjecture to suggest that Barca would beat RM if they did not have CR7. Personally I think RM are capable of beating Barcelona with or without Messi if Mourinho was not so negative in his outlook when he faces them but Barcelona is the better side no doubt.

  • Comment number 48.

    #45 - typical naive comment. Yes Barca and Madrid - this season - are stronger than any of the English sides, but consider United are building a new team this year, Chelsea are in transition, Arsenal need to re-build after losing 2 key players, Liverpool are in transition, and Spurs and City are new to the top of the table, ,then that makes sense.
    Barca/Messi would not walk over all the poor teams in the EPL as easily as they do in La Liga, simply because in England, the small sides get themselves up for the big games, they dont walk out beaten and roll over! They also know how to defend!

  • Comment number 49.

    Tim

    In a previous blog, you mentioned that you were looking forward to seeing Lamela linking up with Messi. Did he play against the Swiss, there is no mention of him in your blog? And what of Lavezzi, how do you see him fitting into the grand scheme of things?

    Meido and Vox Populi, agreed, he was clearly Argentina's best player during the world cup but some people can't see past the currency of goals. His biggest critics seem to come from 'supporters' of a certain club, see #41 for a case in point.

  • Comment number 50.

    @46

    I think Barca will fail as much without messi as they would do without xavi. You only have to look at the game against Gijon, to see how much barca lacked due to the absence of messi. Furthermore anyone watching barca, will clealy appreciate Xavi's skills, who is in my opinion, the worlds second best player. Yet one must not forget or ignore, that a large, large portions of messi's goals are created by messi himself and his dribbling skills.

    To think of spain as just the top two is shortsighted. Valencia, atletico, bilbao et al are all good team. The epl has over the last ten years or so always produced the same tope 4, with the inclusion of spurs once, and everton once. (newcastle maybe too) where as in spain more teams are capable of competing in CL, therefore the very competitve campaigns of deportivo, villareal, valencia, atletico etc. To me this shows more quality in the spanish league. To argue that valencia's failure to hammer stoke is proof of argument doesnt stand up for me. APOEL won a group consisting of zenith, porto, etc. Am I top assume that the Cypriot league is better than russian and portugese?

  • Comment number 51.

    The next World Cup should be dominated by Germany, although Messi IMO will make it a one man show, he knows he needs to show his on an international stage, he nearly done it at the last world cup although he was subjected to some of the best saves of the competition.

  • Comment number 52.

    @41 I couldn't disagree more with you to be honest. Messi's greatness is the fact that he is setting the world on fire aged 24!!!! Some of the very best players do things better than other players, the great players do things no other player does. I actually tune in to watch Barca matches just to see what Messi will do!

    a) La Liga is a two horse race, but which league isn't? Are we really only saying players who play in the Bundesliga should be considered "great" because it is the only major European league where realistically more than 2 teams have a chance of the title and so have to play their best teams every week? Barca would win any league in the world at the moment.

    b) I agree Xavi is a fantastic midfielder, but i think he complements Iniesta and Messi. Barcas greatness (as with most great teams) is in the combination of those players. Together they form the team that has won two CL finals almost effortlessly. Would Messi have won them on his own? Of course not but the team is set up to allow him to win games, in the same way Argentina in 1986 had holding midfielders like Burachaga which allowed Maradonna to dominate. Does that mean that Burachaga (who was underrated) was better than Maradonna because without him Argentina would have won nothing?

  • Comment number 53.

    #46

    You could also look at how Tottenham (3rd) couldn't 'hammer' Stoke (9th) either. Individual matches don't really say a lot, because there are so many variables that change from game to game. The league table at the end of the season is the fairest indicator we have, as these variables tend to even out over time.

    What we see between La Liga and the Premiership is that there are usually 2 teams that dominate (even if in the Premiership their identities are open to change), that there is a gulf between the top teams and the rest, that about 40 points is usually enough to stay up, and in the middle there is a whole lot of mediocre.

    The two leagues sure sound relatively similar. By the way, the team currently in 9th place in La Liga is Atlético, a team with Falcao and until recently Forlán and Agüero, the team who won the Europa League a few years ago. I doubt either Valencia or Tottenham would exactly find it easy to roll them over either. The simple fact is that both Cristiano Ronaldo and Leo Messi are incredible footballers capable of incredible feats in strong leagues.

    Back to the matter in hand, however, and the Messi - Agüero - Higuaín attacking trident seems to be the favoured method for Argentina since Checho Batista stumbled across it in the Copa America last year after withdrawing Tévez. It seems to be a good formula, the former two combine excellently and like to come deep, while Pipita is a presence in the penalty area and a good poacher.

    Fernando Gago has looked good for the Selección since coming on in the second half of the defeat to Uruguay, he is one of the few Argentine midfield players capable of moving the ball on at speed if necessary, and who has the clarity of mind to decide when it is needed.

    Garay, for all his lack of pace and insistance on sitting deep, is at least playing regularly for Benfica now, and is tall. That is something lacking in many of the other options at centre back, though I would like to see him paired with a more mobile player like Coloccini or Otamendi. It could even be worth trying Mascherano in there with a view towards games against weaker teams where ball retention will be more important.

    Still, there are a couple of problem areas. The Di María conundrum hasn't been solved. He's a regular at Real, but has no defined place in the national team. He's not one of the attacking three, and to use him as a central attacking midfielder seems a waste of his wide play, and it is somewhere that suits Javier Pastore much better. Plus there are very few full backs. Zabaleta is solid, but no more, and Zanetti is getting on a bit by now.

  • Comment number 54.

    Yet again there is some nonsense being written on this blog.

    Messi cannot do it without Xavi & Iniesta. I did not see them in Basel.

    Mascherano is a centreback. Since when ? River Plate moved him from that position because they saw his height would be a problem.

    There is a lack of creative players ? Really ? Pastore and Banega can more than match Xavi & Iniesta for flair and creativity. Ball retention though is another matter at times. At the present they need to mature a bit and find some more consistency and Pastore perhaps would do better to play more simply at times.

    Sabella however does not favour a traditional enganche so Pastore may have some trouble being picked. I would have liked to seen Lamela introduced to take off the burden of some of the playmaking off Messi and he has been coming on with his game at Roma rather nicely under Luis Enriques guidance.

    As for defence talent is emerging. The young keeper Andrada has impressed me and likewise some of his teammates from the u17 and u20 sides.Banfield leftback Nicolas Tagliafico who is extremely reminiscent of a young Zanetti and loves to maraud down the right and is a tenacious defender with a very calm persona.

    Or try Cristian Ansaldi who perhaps needs to leave Kazan in order to get noticed. Zabaleta can do a perfectly competent job down the right

    At centreback Sabella at least is moving on from the old guard and u20 talents like Pezzella for all his troubles with Passarella at River Plate(some agent dispute), need to be thrown in although 2014 may just be a little too early and alternatives who have played solidly in Europe such as Matias Silvestre need consideration.

    Campagnaro who did well at rightback have been ignored for the last two seasons while excelling with Sampdoria and it would be a shame for Silvestre to miss out as well.

    At the very least Messi is now in a side in which all of the players are of his generation and many are friends having played with them at age group level which must make the team atmosphere more conducive than having egos like Tevez and headstrong figures like Veron and Riquelme out of the picture who could undermine the little fellow.

    The defence is the basis of all sucessful sides and it still does look shaky at times but if Sabella can get the pace into it (ie Ansaldi) and bring on the youngsters (players like Fernandez should make sure they get first team football instead of sitting on the sidelines at Napoli) the side will have some chance of sucess in 2014.

  • Comment number 55.

    Pastore; no way consistent enough and is a very good player but not the same level as xavi or iniesta

    Good call on ansaldi though

  • Comment number 56.

    @48 Don't get me wrong I like watching the EPL and La Liga. Yeah Man Utd are building a new team this year but crucially they could still win it. My issue is that doesn't exactly point to a strong competitive league when that could happen. They have won more EPLs than either Real Madird or Barca have won La Ligas in the last 10 years but you don't question the fact of the EPL "competitiveness". It should not be possible in a competitive league for the same team to win year in year out.

    As for smaller teams "getting themselves up for the big teams", look at who Barca have dropped points to this season in La Liga compared to Man Utd in the EPL before you make a statement like that. The stat they gave yesterday was that Spurs haven't beaten Man Utd since Gary Lineker! In any other league you would call it uncompetitive.

    I would seriously question you having watched any Premier league matches this season if you think teams in England are able to defend properly! The way Arsenal, Spurs and Man utd got thumped last season by Real and Barca would suggest it is the way those two Spanish teams play that makes it difficult to defend against rather than any inherent defensive weakness.

  • Comment number 57.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 58.

    I recently saw a TV interview with Jose Pekerman on the American TV channel owned by Enzo Francescoli, in that interview, Pekerman discussed how real the danger was of Messi almost playing for Spain, I always assumed Messi's Argentinean roots were the real motivator for putting on the AlbiCeleste, but after listening to Pekerman, it sounded more like it was a better business proposal playing for Argentina than Spain, Spain back then were not the Spain of today, I wonder though, if Messi had to make the choice to either put on the AlbiCeleste or the Roja, and given Spain's international success, whether its based on business or personal reasons, which one would he put on today?

  • Comment number 59.

    usually agree with everything you write Tim, however I thought Argentina were quite poor against the Swiss and they've been poor for some time now. It is not Messi's fault, since Pekerman there has not been a manager to have given Argentina a true identity to their game.. they have some of the best attacking talents in the world but have not been able to put together the kind of team performance that they are definitely capable of..

    For me part of this lost identity has been the inability to replace Riquelme and the full backs. Messi is having to carry the ball too much these days because the Argentine midfield is poor and lacks that player who gives him time (Xavi). Messi's last period of consistently good displays was in the Copa America 2007 when Riquelme ran the show from midfield. Apart from the distastrous final against Brazil, Argentina were by far the best team in that tournament.

    They have also not been able to hit the heights due to the loss of Sorin and Zanetti (Zanetti has played sporadically but is sadly way past his peak). Maradona decided to play centre halves in these roles in WC2010 and despite Argentina playing 'quite well' against the lesser opponents, they lacked any of the old identity that involved plenty of width from the fullbacks allowing the attacking players to come infield. Maradona had Messi picking the ball up from way too deep and it was no coincidence that he did plenty of assists and no goals.

    Anyway I know he is getting on a bit but the answer to getting the best out of Messi in the Argentina shirt is to bring back Riquelme. This would involve a complete switch back to the rhythmic build up play (from the current speed attacks) but it is a closer model to the way Barcelona plays.. In fact, this short passing style came from the Argentina national side in the first place and pre-dates anything Barcelona have today.

    It is not a strategy for the future as Riquelme is getting on a tad but for one tournament in 2014, it is Messi's best chance for a WC. The current Argentina setup is extremely poor and I cannot see them competing with the best teams unless they reinstall the original orchastrator - Riquelme.

  • Comment number 60.

    12. How is La Liga pub standard? By that reckoning the Premiership is the Pub reserve team. Sure, Barca and Real are superb, but then you have Atletico, Valencia, Villareal (who should be right up there, not a clue why they're doing so badly), Sevilla, Malaga, Levante... all good teams. And a lot of the mid-table/relegation candidates are as good as/ better than our equivalents. For example, Mallorca (14th in Spain) would almost certainly beat Swansea.
    I'm not saying the Premier League isn't good, just that we were long ago overtaken.

    Anyway, good blog Tim, whats happened to Cambiasso? Surely a midfield three of him, banega and gago would be superb, with Cambiasso sitting righ back and allowing the two more technical players to dictate play.
    Then, Mascherano can play centre-back like he does for Barcelona, with Demichelis. That would make for a much better defence.

  • Comment number 61.

    @ 25 "It's funny that people always refer to Messi being as good as he is because of Xavi & Iniesta, and yet with the same players, Spain managed only 1-0 wins the entire WC in 2010 South Africa."

    Spot on, there is definitely a positive feedback loop but people need to realise that Messi makes better players of the likes of Xavi and Iniesta than the other way round!

  • Comment number 62.

    Can't understand the constant putting down of the EPL and La Liga. If the second place league is deemed poor then what about all the other leagues across europe?? every top league is a good league, after all they are all professionals, and they are all better than anyone you and I ever played with or were, otherwise we would be in their place!
    UEFA has the EPL as number one, but I think La Liga will take that spot next season. No one league can monopolise europe for too long and thank god for that.
    Furthermore with the UEFA fair play rules to kick in, hopefully we will see the german and french leagues and maybe one or two other closing the gap between the top two and the rest

  • Comment number 63.

    Add your comment

  • Comment number 64.

    Messi has always played well for Argentina and Barcelona. Maybe not at the same level for Argentina all the time, but that is not to say he does not play well. The same way a team is made up of 11 players and Messi alone trying to carry Argentina on his back is a bit hard, the same applies to Barcelona. Argentina's problem is that they have a good number of good players but need to find a way for them to compliment each other. They seem to have found this with Aguero and Messi but, considering this game was against Switzerland, we have yet to see how this pans out against the normally stronger teams i.e. Germany, Italy, Brazil etc.

  • Comment number 65.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 66.

    Assuming everyone is healthy this I think is what Sabella now has as his ideal XI:

    Aguero, Messi
    DiMaria, Gago, Mascherano,Sosa
    Rodriguez, Fernandez, Garay, Zabaleta
    Romero

    With DiMaria and Sosa switching wings during a match and Higuain starting in place of Aguero against certain opponents.

    The question I guess is what to do with Higuain? Can he join Aguero and Messi in a super three man attack? Certainly, as happened in the 2nd half vs Switzerland they can play together but what about from the start of a match? I think it all depends on Angel DiMaria, who missed the Switzerland game with an injury. With Gago, Mascherano and Sosa, Sabella's preferred midfielders behind the front three I think the Messi, Aguero, Higuain trio can play from the start. If, however, DiMaria plays in place of Sosa I do not think he will provide the defensive cover Sosa does and the three man attack thus would not work. I think it comes down to picking DiMaria or one of Aguero/Higuain, if DiMaria plays then one of Aguero or Higuain will have to sit in order to provide the needed defensive balance. If DiMaria sits and Sosa plays then the trio of Messi, Aguero and Higuain could be used.

    But I like what a healthy DiMaria adds to the team, speed, verticality, crossing ability and as we have seen earlier this season at Real Madrid, increased ability to move inside when needed and make decisive through passes. This is why I think Sabella includes DiMaria in his ideal XI. And the Argentine coach has a lot of confidence in Jose Sosa as an additional midfielder, one who like DiMaria can play on either wing or move inside when needed.

    Sabella praised Campagnaro's aerial play, well yes, he is a centerback. So why play him at right back? I wish we could have seen him in the middle of the defense for at least part of the game. Garay-Fernandez, however, did make a good tandem. Yet Campaganaro plays ahead of Fernandez at Napoli, thus I wish he had been given some time to show what he can do as a centerback. Somebody earlier mentioned Cristian Ansaldi as an option at left back and I think he does remain one but right now Boca's Clemente Rodriguez I think provides the best combination of defensive ability plus the capability of projecting himself into attack and that is why I think, as he was in the last two qualifiers in November, Sabella's first choice at left back. Zabaleta can play on the left in an emergency but he is more comfortable on the right side of defense.

    Soccer F

  • Comment number 67.

    Slightly changing the subject this should be a fascinating week in the Copa Libertadores, the highlights are on Tuesday the all Chilean matchup between unbeaten Unión Española hosting Unversidad Catolica and winless subchampion champion Peñarol with new coach Jorge DaSilva hosting Universidad de Chile in a must win match for Peñarol.

    But it is Wednesday which should be the highlight of the week with 6 clubs who are legitimate title contenders playing, 4 of them going head to head. It starts with a matchup between the last two winners of the competition, Santos vs Internacional, Neymar & Ganso vs D'Alessandro & Leandro Damiao. It should be a fascinating game. Then there is Boca hosting Fluminense, Riquelme vs Deco, as Boca put their 36 match unbeaten streak on the line against a Fluminense team which looks as good as any club in this competition.

    Corinthians, the current Brazilian champions host Nacional of Paraguay in a game which should be 3 points for Corinthians while Velez, also a title contender travel to the altitude of Quito to play Deportivo Quito, a club looking for their first win of the competition.

    On Thursday Flamengo host Emelec, Atletico Junior are home to Bolivar and in the day's best matchup Atletico Nacional, the early surprise of the competition, play at Godoy Cruz, who are coming off a hammering by U de Chile and are looking to get back on track.

    Should be a good week of matches, especially on Wednesday with Santos-Internacional and Boca-Fluminense.

    Soccer Futbol Forum:
    http://z8.invisionfree.com/Soccer_Futbol_Forum/index.php

  • Comment number 68.

    @ 66 "If, however, DiMaria plays in place of Sosa I do not think he will provide the defensive cover Sosa does and the three man attack thus would not work. "

    Yeah this is precisely what happened against Germany in 2010. Argentina started with Di Maria, Messi, Higuain and Tevez and were completely over-ran by Germany's 5 man midfield.

    You have got the team pretty much spot on but my only problem with that midfield 3 of Gago, Mascherano and Sosa is the lack of ability to retain the ball through the middle. Either Messi is forced to drop deep or the play is forced down the flanks at speed. This actually suits a player like Di Maria and a target man like Higuain and coincidently, resembles something more like Real Madrid's directness. That is fine, but it means we shouldn't expect the Barcelona-like approach from Messi when he plays for Argentina. Personally, I prefer to have Riquelme back with his control of the tempo of the game and the pass and move that was embodied in the "26 pass goal" in Germany 2006. This means though, that Messi relinquishes his influence over the general direction of Argentina's play but I feel perversely, that this is actually how to get the best out of him!

  • Comment number 69.

    I think that it is quite clear that Messi is the best player in the world, Argentina may have the deadliest attack in the world but their defence will hold them back. Yet, there is still over 2 years until the next world cup which is plenty of time for argentina to build a defence which would be un-penetrable to even the likes of Spain, even if Argentina were to build a defence of a half-decent standard there attacking quality would pull them through. Messi's performances have been great for Argentina just lacking goals, but these will come in the near future hopefully before the next world cup.

  • Comment number 70.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 71.

    It would be ridiculous for anyone to say Messi lacks passion for his country. As far as I know, he's never missed a game for Argentina when fit, and has even gone against his club's wishes to turn out for La Albiceleste.

    I'm also hoping that Lamela gets a chance for Argentina soon. He could be the player that best links the midfield and attack.

  • Comment number 72.

    Good blog, I never get to see practically anything that is non-world cup from the SA sides, but I'm always in admiration.

    The Argentinian team will always be an insanely talented one, but their going through a bit of 'Spain-pre 2008' syndrome at the mo. Glad for their display against the Swiss, loving the development of Messi in being integral to a solid possession-based attacking team.

    Also, can't wait to see more of Ganso. I just miss the World Cup I guess.

  • Comment number 73.

    Messi is playing ok for Argentina.
    But which current world class player is playing well for both club and country.
    I am thinking a long time and there isnt many of them.
    Wayne Rooney, C Ronaldo, Ibrahimovic, barlotelli, Aguerro, Neymar, Kaka, Van Persie.
    None of the so called great strikers are great for their country.
    Xavi and Iniesta are good for Spain but they have many others who can replace them too such as Fabregas, Alonso.

    The criticism of Messi is harsh. A team sport to win a tournament yet everybody expect one person to win it on his own or he would be deemed average.
    By the way Maradona was the main reason Argentina won world cup 1986 but he was not a one man show, he recognised his teammates contributions and sacrifices. Also Maradona did not score any goals in the final so how did he win the world cup by himself. At most a 0-0 draw with zero goals scored in the last match. Penalties at best.

  • Comment number 74.

    Barcelona would be the best team in the world even without Messi. Most of their Spanish players won a trophy a couple of years ago, a trophy that happens to be the most important trophy in all of sports, not just football. Yes, that trophy. There's no denying Barcelona is a more spectacular team with Messi, but this ol' game of ours ain't about just one guy. As for Messi, he needs to do better in a WC --at least help Argentina get to the semifinals-- to crown an already outstanding career

  • Comment number 75.

    but if madrid and barca were put in other leagues they would be more than two teams their would unlike joke liga be other teams people would actually want to sign for, they wouldnt be able to take all the money unlike joke liga and their record debts would cripple them, they would actually have to pay their bills...think about it..

  • Comment number 76.

    59. finally someone agrees with me to bring back Juan Román Riquelme

  • Comment number 77.

    In 2010 messi was marked out of the tournament. against greece he was suffocated by 2 or 3 players marking him at one time, even by his standards it was difficult. Im sure he will have his day, he has too much quality in him.

    As for maradona, yes he had a outstanding world cup in 86 but what would of happened if the ' hand of god ' didnt count and argentina went out, things would of been a little different for him, would of been a zero not a hero!! just goes to show how a defining moment can change your career. Messi scores in a world cup final, forever a legend. If messi dont produce then he will be the player who never done it on the biggest stage.

  • Comment number 78.

    "You only have to look at how Valencia (3rd) were not able to hammer Stoke (9th) in the Europa League to show the difference in strength in depth in England. Yes they were better, but there wasnt the gulf in class you would expect for their respective league positions."

    Plenty of top Prem sides have struggled with Stoke, so really what is your point?

    No one can honestly say that Messi would not bang in 35+ goals in the Prem. We have teams like Blackburn, Wolves and Wigan who continuously ship goals galore.

    The people that say Messi is nothing without Xavi haven't got a clue. Barca have become alarming dependent on Messi this season and this is why they are struggling to keep up with Madrid. Without Villa Barca have Pedro and Sanchez in the wide areas. They are good players but not world class. This leaves Messi to do all of the cutting edge passes and finishes on his own. Ronaldo on the other hand has the likes of Benzema and Di Maria to occupy the opposition.

    Seriously guys watch a Barca game and then tell me that Barca are not over reliant on Messi. Players like Xavi have just taken to giving him the ball and waiting for him to win the game. Oppositions just double up on Messi and away from home it's proving difficult for him to carry the team.

    Also I think people need to stop being so nostalgic and using Maradona to bash Messi. Maradona had a record of 30 goals in 90 games for Argentina. Almost the exact same ratio that Messi has for the national team.

    Maradona never won Europe's top honour. His entire legend is build on one amazing World Cup performance. So if Rooney has an amazing Euros, scores ten goals and sets up ten en route to England winning the trophy he's then all of a sudden one of the greatest players ever? I think not.

    I'm not saying Maradona isn't one of the greatest because he clearly is, but if Messi wins a World Cup fro me he eclipses him

  • Comment number 79.

    It's amazing that there are still Messi bashers!

    Surely the tired old myth that he couldn't do it on a rainy night in Stoke has been ended? The Valencia team (who rested Soldado amongst others) did not exactly looked overawed when comfortably beating Stoke home and away recently. Messi has scored and created mayhem against English clubs for the last few seasons. If he was in the Premier League he would be it's leading star (by a mile) and leading scorer.

    The next argument is that he plays better when with Xavi and Iniesta. Of course he does! He is playing as the fulcrum of one of the greatest teams ever with the two best midfielders in the world. Of course he will play better with these players!

    His record with Argentina. Look past the paper stats. Messi is very good for Argentina, the problem is more to do with an Argentinian team which has lacked balance for at least ten years (despite the abundence of talent). It does look now with the Aguero - Messi partnership that a bit more balance has been achieved up front. I expect that barring injuries Messi will be the standout performer at the 2014 World Cup.

    The Ronaldo vs Messi debate. As great as Ronaldo is, Messi is ahead of him. Messi contributes more for the team, Is far more influential in big games.

    The 'growth hormone' comments are so bitter and puerile they barely deserve a response. It amazes me that so many people seem to think they have first hand knowledge of the medical facilities at Barcelona.......

    Why can't people just enjoy the fact that we are witnessing one of the greatest players ever, a player who loves the game, a player who avoids most of the commercial - Image rubbish that is in football today, a player who can beat 3-4 players with one dribble, a player who (largely) plays with a smile on his face, a player who plays for one of the greatest teams in history, who breaks scoring record after scoring record, a great rolemodel.

    Enjoy Messi while you can as a player like him only comes along once a generation.

  • Comment number 80.

    @78 Maradona's legend is based on more than just 1986.

    Dragging Napoli to Scuddetto's when Serie A was the strongest league in the World. Been the standout player in a league which had 90% of the greatest players in the world at the time, his fruit juggling when he was a kid, his passion, his genious at Barca, his battles with authority, rejecting a multi million pound offer to take dual citizenship.

    Maradona peaked in 1986 and dominated a World Cup like no other player has before, but there is a lot more to his legend than that.

    The greatest player ever and I would say almost certainly the greatest player that I will ever see.

  • Comment number 81.

    the pointless comments about Barca not being half the team without Messi are rediculous, they DO have Messi and he didnt play last weekend and guess what they won 3-1.

    Messi doesnt have anything to prove to be remembered as one of the all time great players on any stage, i dont care what people say about world cups etc etc he is just on another level. i dont believe Barca are one of the all time great sides but i do believe messi si one of the best players and if he carries on in the same vein then he will be remembered forever. What i will say is that for entertainment value no one will ever beat Ronaldinho.

  • Comment number 82.

    I actually think Argentina DO have2 a lot of creativity in midfield. Players like Banega, Pastore and Gago are the main playmakers in their clubs and I think they can do it on the international stage with argentina.

    Their main problems are defensively and certainly at full-back. At the moment I think Zabaleta and Rodriguez are their best options but they need to be hoping for a wonderkid to come through the ranks somewhere!

    -------------------------------Romero----------------------------------

    Zabaleta -------Otamendi-------------Garay--------------Rodriguez


    ------------------Mascherano ------Gago/Banega-------------------


    Messi ----------------------Pastore-----------------------Aguero


    ---------------------------Higuain---------------------------------

  • Comment number 83.

    30.At 13:51 5th Mar 2012, swindonbluearmy wrote:
    6. At 12:08 5th Mar 2012, King Red wrote:

    So presumably you'd say the same about Rooney, Ronaldo... um must be more? I think what you've said is correct but is it not that he makes a very very good team great and a not so great team pretty good?
    ===============================================================
    Rooney def, his form for united is far better than his form for england. I dont know about Ronaldo, he seems greedy at times but then scores a hat trick, ronaldo is more of a, excuse the term, "lone wolf" where as messi is a complete team player. Portugal NEED ronaldo where as Argentina would still be a great team without Messi.

  • Comment number 84.

    81.At 12:26 6th Mar 2012, signori wrote:
    i dont care what people say about world cups etc etc
    ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    This being international football i think Messi needs to prove his worth by winning the World Cup, im sure he wants to win it now more than ever. If he was to finish his career and not have won the world cup it would leave a massive gap in his trophy cabinet. he'd be remembered as the great player that couldnt win on an international stage, as great as he is, he's just like every other top player on the planet, seems the real test is international football!

  • Comment number 85.

    the only difference between Ronaldo and Messi is their attitudes.

    Messi seems to love playing football for Barca and looks very happy with all his team mates and providing assists and link up play. Messi is never in the papers at all other than for his football.

    Ronaldo is more selfish, its more about him as an individual, he wants the glory for himself, he loves the lifestyle the glamour of it the attention he gets and seems to sometimes have a chip on his shoulder.

    both phenomenal players but both very different people it would seem.

  • Comment number 86.

    84.At 12:39 6th Mar 2012, King Red wrote:

    so if Messi doesnt win the world cup he will be remembered as a great player that didnt win a world cup. i think not. no matter if that trophy is secured by Argentina or not Messi will be remembered as one of the greats, im lucky to have seen him play, like Ronaldinho i think the same.

  • Comment number 87.

    86.At 12:46 6th Mar 2012, signori wrote:

    My personnal view of it is that if messi were to retire today he'd still be one of the best players to walk the earth, but as we all know the elites of football, i.e Pele, Mardonna, Zidane & Ronaldo (fat) all had one thing in common, a world cup winners medal. Messi will want to be included in that group and rightfully so, i cant see him finishing his career without a world cup winners medal, it will be a shame if he does!

    C. Ronaldo on the other hand knows he has no chance of winning the WC, his soul purpose has to be league football, they missed there change with the Euro's a few years back.

  • Comment number 88.

    Got to say, it's nowhere near as simple as saying "Barcelona and Real would walk any league they were put into", especially the EPL. I found it interesting that you rarely see the important players from Barcelona injured, whereas towards the business end of the season, the top teams in England often have long injury lists.

    I discussed this with some others, and someone made the very good point that the Spanish game is often less physically challenging than the English in some ways - for example, if Barca are leading a team 3-0 going into the 2nd half, the opposing team will just give up, shutting up shop and exerting as little energy as possible to save themselves for the next game. This obviously allows players to be rested by substitutions, or allows the players left on the pitch to ease off and play out the game, not risking themselves.

    Contrast that with EPL games. A lot of the time, that "shut-up-shop" attitude just does not exist, and you are likely to be challenged every minute of the 90 whether you're at the top of the league or the bottom. This has a big effect on players with fatigue and injury.

    So put Barca and Real in the EPL, and I think they would find things a lot more difficult than they do in La Liga now - sure they would be up there come the end of the season, but to say they would walk it no questions asked is a bit naive really.

  • Comment number 89.

    Many greats have never won world cups.
    Platini, Maldini, Eusebio, Cruff, Figo, Michael Laundrup, Puskas etc etc.
    Also if I remember clearly George Best and Di Stephano hae always been voted inside top 5 best players of all time. Lev Yashin has been voter greatest goalkeeper (a fundamental part of a football TEAM, I emphasise TEAM), has not won world cup. So basically to be known as best, they have to win world cup. Please step down Mr. Yashin, and let only word cup winning keepers be nominated.

    Don't get me wrong, Messi probably needs world cup win to silence the critics. It would be the icing on the cake for Messi. However if Argentina and Messi do not win it, I am sure Messi will not cry about it when he retires because he has fame (that he doesn't really crave), fortune, enough ability to play on Masters/Retiree Football and a career 99.9% of professional footballers and the rest of the world wished they have. If Messi had C Ronaldo's arrogance and attitude, he be mocking everybody else for being poorer, less skilled, less awards won than him. Thankfully Messi is down to earth person.

  • Comment number 90.

    89.At 13:36 6th Mar 2012, Williedaho wrote:
    ====================================================================
    I have to admit, i didnt know maldini never won the world cup!! But i bet each one of those players regret not having won the world cup, especially players that were included in strong teams such as Maldini
    I think Figo was in the same boat as Ronaldo as in he plays for portugal, who do produce good players, just not 11 of them.
    George Best was another who had no chance of winning on the international stage, i can admit being from N. Ireland that were are poor. His standards were way above the rest of the N.Irelands squad. Its still crazy to think he grew up 2 streets from where i grew up, he was a genius! RIP

  • Comment number 91.

    85 signori

    oh no, there is much much more than just there attitudes.

    only thing ronaldo can compare to messi is his goal ratio in the last 3-4 seasons.

    can you name anything truly spectacular ronaldo has done on a par with messi's goal against madrid in the 2nd leg champs semi at the bernabeu? or the one against getafe? his arsenal demolition? 4 against valencia? hat-trick against malaga not too lng ago? or numerous others i can dish out. that is difference between these two, and some still have the nerve to mention christina in the same breath as messi.

    and please dont say that back heel last week!!

  • Comment number 92.

    Not sure why people would argue that Messi isn't a great player without Xavi or Iniesta? Sure he is a better player when those two are around to feed him and indeed everyone on the team the ball, but then so would everyone be. Regardless of who he plays with, he's almost peerless in world football at the moment - with the possible exception of Ronaldo. The key for Barcelona is finding space, and Messi can float into space freely from whichever position he starts in, knowing that the rest of the team are also finding space and completing passes to players in space. Every time he touches the ball he has a multitude of options. I think that might be the key for Argentina, they need to either encourage movement and selfless passing, or abandon attempts to create the same environment in which he thrives for his club and try to utilise him in other ways.

    The team someone put on here with Higuain up top and Messi wide right, Aguero wide left and Pastore in behind would be my ideal for Argentina, though I always loved watching Riquelme dictate from that position, can Pastore or Banega be as good?

    On the Premier League vs La Liga debate, I think the Premier League has dipped dramatically over the last 4 years or so. The standard at every level in the Premier League has dropped, particularly at the lower end of the table. There's strength in depth in the Spanish league now that there once was not as well. Tough one to call, but the top 2 in Spain are frighteningly good no matter which way you look at it.

  • Comment number 93.

    #90. I wasn't saying they dont regret not winning world cup. Every players goal is to be the best and win trophies. The world cup is ultimately the holy grail of trophies even if the prestige is less than in the past.

    However with a world cup once every 4 years and only 1 team able to win it. If an average playing career is 16 years that is at most 4-5 world cups if they qualify. There will be a lot of regretful players in this world then.

    My original point was just saying I think critics are a bit harsh on Messi. If he wins world cup, be it with his ability or as a team effort, than it will cap off a wonderful career. If he doesn't win, he won't lose too much sleep. Maybe for a night or two, but after that he will get over it and reflect on a phenomenal career. He is in my opinion the best of the current generation and a genius. Will he be known as the best in future, only time and Messi's hunger for the game will tell.

  • Comment number 94.

    the problem of selection of Brazil is the slow style of play and without intensity that would have all played in the theory have much ability to move and always looking the other who has the ball, besides the excessive passion by a central guard shirt 10 as riquelme, del piero, iniesta, snajder, Rivaldo, zidane and others who do not have the time, the best would be playing in an intense schedule and opponents feel that the difficulties of attacking him and the attack is very strong addition to the traditional possession of the ball, with players that Brazil has the 4-4-2 or 4-1-4-1 schemes would be more efficient because the conductor would dispense 10 shirt, as well as playing the real madrid, I am sure that Brazil has players for this. Argentina has a problem that comes estrural defense your defensive players are not technical and even faster, although the midfield and attacking high-level best that Brazil has no defenders and side or near the Brazilian, Paraguayan and Uruguayan since sorin, ayala and pochechinni zanetti retired and no longer has the physical layout Argetina have cultural problems in defense, they do not like wings that rise too much abilidosos such as Brazil, to solve problems in Defeza and increase the quality of I suggest attacking the Italian scheme that worked with the Uruguay and the barça currently use, with the entrance of the 4-3-1-2 with fabregas messi being the center of the spearhead. -------------------------------romero------------------------------------ gago------mascherano------samuel------henzie------------ -------------------------cambiasso------- dimaria--------banega ----------------------------messi-----------aguero -- ------------------------------higuain ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

  • Comment number 95.

    91.At 14:31 6th Mar 2012, Meido wrote:

    thats a bit harsh on ronaldo, he's a great player, only one player on the planet is better and thats only by a little.... for me i enjoy watching ronaldo more than i do messi. Ronaldino was also better to watch than messi, just my opinion.

  • Comment number 96.

    Going back to someone's comment about two or three players marking Messi, one of the most interesting matches I've seen was Barcelona against Mallorca when Ronaldinho was at his peak.

    The doubled up on him so he just pulled out wide, right onto the touchline. He was pretty quiet all game, but created loads of space for Eto'o and (probably) Giuly. I think the two players marking him both got sent off by the end. My point is, just having Messi's name on the team sheet is already a bonus.

    I still worry about Argentina defensively, even if they should be amazing going forward.

  • Comment number 97.

    95 king red

    Fair do's mate!

    Although I reckon because he was at united u have a soft spot for ronaldo. I just fail to see what ronaldo produces over messi. Agreed if ronaldinho continued his barca magic for 5-6 more years then defo hard to see past him. But both ronaldo and dinho are/were not as consistent as messi. O fenomeno for me is still the main man :) god damn his knees :(

  • Comment number 98.

    Dear Mr Vicerky

    I was wondering if you could shed some light, as to why Fabricio Coloccini one of the best center backs in the Premier League. Is never mentioned in the Argentine squad?

  • Comment number 99.

    Football in Brazil is heinous, with primadonna players, thug supporters (hello, Coritiba!), small crowds at matches, massively indebted clubs, and a tv commentator (on Band TV) who should be in jail for killing people while driving drunk. Furthermore, this is the slow season, of diddy state championships, which do nothing but clog up the schedules with boring matches. So please Tim, can you give us an article on Rugby Football in Brazil, just for a change?

    There is a national championship, plus several state competitions, and the arrival of 7s in the Olympics is really helping to promote rugby. Rio and Guanabara are the two main teams in Rio city, rivalled by Niteroi who are from across the bay. Most teams are made up of approx 90% locals and 10% gringos, showing it is not just a sport for expats.

    This weekend, 10th & 11th, Rio de Janeiro is hosting the South American 7s, with teams from ten countries competing. It's free admission, at Flamengo's training ground in Gavea, so I'll be there!

  • Comment number 100.

    I agree with most of the comments, but still not so sure. Messi need a team to win, like Maradona in 86 and 90 (although they lost the final match) and today Argentina lacks of good defenders.
    Amazing the amount of comments in this page!

 

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