Brazil v Argentina: Messi's supporting cast stepping up

By Dom Farrell 2 July 2019 85
Brazil v Argentina: Messi's supporting cast stepping up

As Argentina's Copa America campaign spluttered during its opening stages, familiar unflattering observations were made.

Once again, the great Lionel Messi was being let down on his quest for an elusive international honour by a team performing in an abject manner both individually and collectively.

A 2-0 loss to Colombia and 1-1 draw against Paraguay, where Messi levelled from the penalty spot, had strong echoes of Argentina's shambolic World Cup efforts in Russia last year.

But Lionel Scaloni's men have found their feet to stay in with a shout of glory – back-to-back 2-0 wins over Qatar and Venezuela setting up Tuesday's mouthwatering semi-final showdown against bitter rivals and hosts Brazil in Belo Horizonte.

Further improvement is likely to be required to see off the Selecao, but a more settled line-up has shown glimpses of the undoubted talent at the disposal of rookie coach Scaloni.

Perhaps most significantly, Messi has been well shy of his usual excellence in the past two games, forcing these standout members of the supporting cast and others to step up in a manner many have struggled to do so over recent years.

Lautaro Martinez

Martinez earned a start against Paraguay and survived the subsequent change of personnel and formation to a 4-4-2 diamond. Paired with Sergio Aguero in attack ahead of Messi at number 10, the Inter youngster struck early versus Qatar and Venezuela to settle La Albiceleste's ever-fragile nerves. The striker now has six goals in 10 international appearances and, crucially, carries none of the baggage of recent failures that many in Scaloni's squad remain lumbered with.  

Franco Armani

Thrust into an Argentina debut after Willy Caballero's World Cup horror show against Croatia, Armani appeared ill at ease with international football in Russia. But the 32-year-old River Plate goalkeeper secured the second Copa Libertadores of his career last December and has operated with impressive assurance in Brazil. Without his penalty save against Paraguay, Scaloni's men would probably have already packed their bags. Armani has proved an increasingly calm presence behind a still-suspect back four – his handling against Venezuela was superb.

Rodrigo de Paul

Angel Di Maria had to wait for a late cameo in the round of 16 to claim his 100th Argentina cap and the Paris Saint-Germain star's delay on reaching his landmark owes much to De Paul's emergence. The Udinese winger's verve after being introduced for an abject Di Maria at half-time was arguably the sole positive against Colombia and he has since tucked in on the side of Scaloni's diamond with committed and technically assured performances.

Leandro Paredes

Like many of his performances since joining PSG from Zenit in January, Paredes' outings for his country have often underwhelmed. But he excelled against Venezuela, with De Paul's industry and Marcos Acuna's pleasing tenacity allowing the 25-year-old's exquisite passing range to come to the fore – something Argentina lacked from the base of midfield during the arduous final knockings of Javier Mascherano's international career. Paredes' set-piece deliveries also caused plenty of problems at the Maracana as he shared dead-ball duties with Messi.

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Dom Farrell