Argentina 2 Bosnia-Herzegovina 1 match report: Lionel Messi gets Argentina up and running with magical strike at the Maracana

Mercurial forward gets his goal at the legendary stadium

Argentina took over the Maracana and Lionel Messi eventually took command of the stage last night as Argentina defeated Bosnia and Herzegovina 2-1. The victory may well be the initial step on the way to Argentina winning the World Cup for what would be the first time in 28 years.

The two-time champions were somewhat underwhelming against a Bosnia side playing in their first ever game in a World Cup, but eventually did enough to put their first points on the board.

It was Messi who completed the win with a brilliant strike, but Argentina still have work to do to fine-tune their team. The experiment with a new formation did not work, and they were made to work very hard. The somewhat laboured display for much of the match, however, was at odds with their lightning beginning.

Argentina started with great attacking intent and they were ahead within three minutes.Alex Sabella’s side began the game at an extraordinary tempo, which brought them to the brink of the Bosnian box. The only recourse for the World Cup debutants was to foul. From the subsequent free-kick delivered by Messi, the ball bounced into the net off the unfortunate defender Sead Kolasinac.

 

Argentina’s relentless pace was rendering the opposition irrelevant. The goal will have been all the more pleasing for manager Sabella because, before the game, he had highlighted the European team’s aerial physicality as a particular concern. Yet Argentina simply bullied them back.

The goal, and the beginning period of the match, also made the Argentinian manager’s surprising switch to 5-3-2 initially look like the right tactical decision. That formation has drawn parallels between Messi and Diego Maradona in 1986, given that it was Carlos Bilardo, then the Argentina manager, who effectively invented that formation in order to maximise the potential of the older Argentinian legend.

Messi was the focal point of this formation  last night. This is expected to be his World Cup, his defining statement. Yet he was initially rather quiet.

Messi managed to get on the ball a few times in the opening minutes, only to then be clattered in a tackle by the industrious Muhamed Besic.

The Barcelona playmaker did not exactly show the same willingness to be so abrasive himself. At one point when Bosnia and Herzegovina finally got some possession, the ball was being played around just a few yards from Messi. Rather than actually go and press, he let it go, which led to the European side’s first attack of the game. Goalkeeper Sergio Romero was forced into a save, and Argentina had due warning.

Moments later, Miralem Pjanic went close with a free-kick. The fact that Bosnia had these early chances suggested that this game was perhaps going to be a little closer than some imagined, not least after the opening few minutes. For much of the first half, in fact, it was arguably Bosnia who had the better of the ball. Messi could not quite get his foot on it enough, and only offered two real runs of note early in the first half, before being crowded out on both occasions.

His apparent drop-off in form was reflective of Argentina’s, as the early energy started to fade. Their play no longer matched the buzz of their many fans in the stands inside the Maracana.

The 5-3-2 formation suddenly did not appear quite as good a fit as it first seemed, and Bosnia and Herzegovina certainly were not holding back. On 41 minutes they were almost back on level terms, as a thunderous Senad Lulic effort brought an excellent save from Romero.

Safet Susic’s Bosnia side were not intimidated by the occasion of a first World Cup game, but instead seemed emboldened by it, as is often the case with such teams. Similarly, they were definitely not deflated by the early goal.

Sabella used the half-time interval to make two substitutions and revert to a 4-3-3. Fernando Gago came on for Hugo Campagnaro, and Gonzalo Higuain was also introduced.

It had become clear that Sabella’s tactic of using four players to mark Bosnia striker Edin Dzeko, as was the case in the first half, was a waste of resources. Sabella sought to rectify it.

If the dynamic of the team immediately changed, the dynamic of the game did not. Bosnia and Herzegovina kept coming, kept causing Argentina problems.

The Bosnians were physical, well organised but perhaps just lacking penetration.

Messi finally provided some of his own with a brilliant run 10 minutes into the second half. In the type of move the playmaker has become famous for, he weaved through three defenders before drawing more towards him then slipping the ball through to Sergio Aguero.

However, the Manchester City striker was not at his best either, as his shot which blazed over the bar illustrated. Having barely touched the ball in the first half, he clearly had not found his range in the second half.

It soon became apparent, however, that Messi had not lost his ability to raise his game. On 65 minutes, the No 10 picked the ball up on the edge of the box, delicately maneouvred the ball into space, and then drove it in off the post.

The entire Maracana chanted his name, and Messi himself let out a roar. It was Messi’s first World Cup goal since 2006.

He suddenly looked a different player in a different mood. With 10 minutes to go, he burst through the centre of the pitch, looking to play a one-two before just being denied his second of the game by a sliding Bosnian body.

Moments later, though, it was 2-1. Bosnian substitute Vedad Ibisevic slipped the ball under Romero to give Argentina’s defence something to think about.

At the very least, Messi and Sabella can think about the next game feeling a bit more comfortable.

News
Young Winstone: His ‘tough-guy’ image is a misconception
people
Arts and Entertainment
Man of action: Christian Bale stars in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Sport
Adnan Januzaj and Gareth Bale
footballManchester United set to loan out Januzaj to make room for Bale - if a move for the Welshman firms up
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
filmIdris Elba responds to James Bond rumours on Twitter
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Hackers revealed Oscar-winning actress Lawrence was paid less than her male co-stars in American Hustle
people
Arts and Entertainment
Ellie Levenson’s The Election book demystifies politics for children
bookNew children's book primes the next generation for politics
Sport
Wayne Rooney warms up ahead of the English Premier League football match between Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United at White Hart Lane
football
News
Outspoken: Alexander Fury, John Rentoul, Ellen E Jones and Katy Guest
newsFrom the Scottish referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones
film
News
i100
Sport
Yaya Sanogo, Mats Hummels, Troy Deeney and Adnan Januzaj
footballMost Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
News
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
Voices
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers
voicesIt has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
News
Danielle George is both science professor and presenter
people
News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

Say it with... lyrics

The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

The joys of 'thinkering'

Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

Monique Roffey interview

The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

How we met

Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

Who does your club need in the transfer window?

Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

Michael Calvin's Last Word

From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015