Messi let down by responsibility-free team-mates

Lionel Messi did his best but there was no way through Iceland's excellent defence as Argentina was held to a 1-1 draw in Moscow.

Published : Jun 16, 2018 21:51 IST

Jorge Sampaoli alluded to it on Friday. "Having a player like Leo means you have to organise the team differently."

Lionel Messi is both Argentina's greatest weapon and its biggest weakness. It's the unpleasant truth, the elephant in the room.

It's also why the greatest player of his generation - whisper that quietly in Madrid and Madeira - has never won a major international trophy and why, without significant improvement, that drought won't be broken in Russia.

That's not to say Messi underperformed in the 1-1 draw against Iceland, he was unquestionably Argentina's best player despite again failing from the penalty spot - seemingly the only flaw in his arsenal, but his shadow hangs over the rest of the team, inhibiting them, stifling their natural instincts.

The Barcelona superstar started in an attacking three alongside Maxi Meza and Angel Di Maria and behind lone striker Sergio Aguero.

It's arguably the best front four at the World Cup, those arguments coming from fans of France and Brazil.

And yet neither Meza nor Di Maria, both of whom were hauled off before the end, made any kind of impact, neither looked to take the game to Iceland. More importantly, neither took any responsibility.

And this is the fundamental issue.

If the tactic is to organise everyone around Messi, then it absolves everyone else of the need to put their hand up, to raise their head above the parapet and take the weight of a nation off the shoulders of one man.

If anyone can relate to what Messi has to endure, it is Diego Maradona, the inspiration behind Argentina's 1986 World Cup triumph. Maradona was at Spartak Stadium with television cameras capturing every exasperated gesture as the match went on.

He can see the issue, even if Sampaoli cannot.

But to focus solely on Argentina's frustrations does great injustice to Iceland, for it embodies everything Albiceleste aren't: they are a team, 11 men on an equal footing and with equal levels of responsibility.

Heimir Hallgrimsson got his tactics spot on. They defended deep, and utilised their great strengths, the counter attack and set-pieces. 

They also showed more of the rock-solid self-belief that characterised their run to the quarterfinals of Euro 2016.

Having fallen behind to Aguero's excellently-taken 19th-minute opener, many teams would have folded. Not so Iceland, the men of volcanic rock. Just four minutes later they were level, Alfred Finnbogason stabbing home after a goalmouth scramble.

From there the tone was set. Iceland sat back and absorbed, Messi probed while his team-mates continuously took the easy option.

Yes, Iceland rode its luck on occasion, Hannes Halldorsson earning himself a place in Iceland folklore by parrying away Messi's weakly-struck 64th-minute penalty.

Halldorsson is also a film director, with Iceland's 2012 Eurovision entry as one of his credits.

Will he ever direct a film chronicling what many hope will be the final chapter in Messi's storied career: a World Cup win?

Not on this evidence. And it's no fault of the great man.

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