The small number of matches the national team plays every year means that each one is given a substantial importance, analyzed as illustrative to the Selección’s general level. The praises that result from victory can turn into ruthless critics without stops in a matter of days, if a bad defeat follows it.
That is exactly what happened yesterday, but at an exponential level, after Argentina was completely destroyed by Spain in Madrid. La Selección lost 6-1, and any positive review of this European tour that could have come after Friday’s victory against Italy was completely obliterated by the dismal level that Jorge Sampaoli’s team displayed at the Wanda Metropolitano stadium.
Add to it the fact that this was the last friendly match before the World Cup, and you have an explosive cocktail that creates a perception that the chances of bringing home the trophy are slim, to say the least. OK, so Messi did not play, but his absence further revealed the lack of chemistry in a team that for long has depended on him to even aspire to sit at the same table as the teams with a structure that doesn’t revolve around individual performances.
The defeat adds a larger degree of uncertainty to the final roster for Russia that Sampaoli will announce in not so long. Many of the players whose performances could have sealed their tickets failed their last test to such an extent that the competition seems to have gone back to being wide open.
Another blow, which is even more important than the result itself, is the emotional one. The current team has always been extremely permeable to the evaluations from abroad, and the impossibility to change the current perception will surely be a factor to take into account when the team takes the pitch to face Iceland in its first World Cup match.
Yesterday was evidence of how Argentina failed spectacularly in its attempt of beating Spain at its own game. The contrast between a team that has been implementing a system for years and one that’s currently trying – unsuccessfully – to find one could be seen throughout the 90 minutes, as the Spanish goals came mostly as a result of associated play, rather than individual moves.
But if there is a silver lining to take from this current situation in which the team finds itself – there is nothing to take from the game, except perhaps the good level displayed by Maximiliano Meza – is that in World Cups, contexts are usually left aside. And that Argentina has Messi. If it’s already too late to aspire to achieve collective play, at least it will possible to rely on the best player in the world. And now, that is our best and only strategy.