After finally coming to life during Argentina’s 2-1 victory over Bosnia-Herzegovina, Lionel Messi was rather forthcoming after the match. He admitted feeling real pressure about the World Cup.
“It’s normal to have doubts,” Messi said in the post-match press conference. “It’s the first match. We were nervous, anxious.
“The most important thing was winning - and we did that.”
They sealed it thanks to the playmaker’s 65th-minute wonder strike, which added to Sead Kolasinac’s early own goal and ensured Argentina were still in front even after Vedad Ibisevic hit a late response. It was a typical Messi strike: delicate footwork to find the space; devastating finishing to hit the net.
It was, however, an untypical Messi setting. This was just his second ever World Cup goal, and his first for eight years.
Messi was also surprisingly frank about that: “a big relief”, he said of the strike. You could sense that from the celebration, as he let out a primal roar. If it would be obvious to liken it to Diego Maradona’s famous response to his goal against Greece in 1994, it is now a fair expectation that he begins to kick on, and potentially replicate his legendary predecessor’s performances in 1986.
Messi certainly seemed released after the goal. He was suddenly finding much more space, and enjoying far more surges. Part of that, though, was also the positioning.
Manager Alejandro Sabella had abandoned his curious 5-3-2 experiment, and the playmaker was again enjoying much more of the ball in a 4-3-3.
Messi nodded his approval, perhaps scotching some of the speculation that he had been the one who wanted the previous formation.
“In the first half we gave up possession to Bosnia and so I was too deep,” Messi said. “I was alone and Kun [Aguero] was alone. It was very difficult. We like [4-3-3] better because, when you go forward, you have more possibilities of passing the ball and scoring. We strikers and forwards are favoured by this formation.”
There is finally a sense that the World Cup is starting to favour Messi. That 5-3-2 formation is now likely to be banished.
The Argentine can now banish those last doubts about his career.
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