Anshuman Roy, Telegraph
Calcutta: The Salt Lake Stadium kept its date with Lionel Messi on Friday. And that despite huge traffic snarls, long queues at the entry points and killing humidity.
Around 85,000 people chanted “Messi, Messi, Messi” as the little magician and his teammates gave their coach, Alejandro Sabella, a winning debut. Nicolas Otamendi scored the all-important goal, against Venezuela, in the 67th minute off a Messi corner (who else?) and it was enough. The result meant that Venezuela would have to wait for their maiden victory against the Argentines.
Sabella during his press conference, on Wednesday, had pledged to to build a team around Messi. That’s what one generally does when he has the world’s best player at his disposal. But what Sabella needs to find is some muscular players who can protect Messi. The Angel Di Marias, Jonas Guttierezs, Javier Pastores have the talent and skill, but they are not as muscular as the 10 others who helped Diego Maradona to lift the World Cup in 1986. Run a search in our computer and you will find how tough and well-built Jose Luis Browns, Sergio Batista, Oscar Ruggeris were. They complemented Maradona very well.
On Friday, the Venezuelans were easily closing down on Di Maria, Ricardo Alvarez and Lucio Gonzalez, and Messi, sometimes, had to drop deep to get the ball.
And when he got it, it was just treat to watch. Slaloming past three to four defenders has never been a big deal for Messi. He does that in every match. So Friday was no different. Every time he had the ball the Venezuelans were on their toes but it was difficult to keep pace with him. Those touches, darting runs and dribbles… Messi was simply amazing. He did everything for Argentina. He took all the free-kicks, the corners and was behind every move that Argentina made.
That they had to wait till the 66th minute was because of one Rafael Romo who saved everything that came his way. He could only be outfoxed by the quick thinking of Argentine defender Otamendi who directed Messi’s corner brilliantly to the near post. Romo had no answer to that.
Now, what about Sabella’s plans of finding a combination? Lucio Gonzalves, who was preferred ahead of Ever Banega, was giving Messi the support up the field. And it will take some time before Sabella gets the right combination. It will be interesting to see how Sabella combine Juan Roman Riquelme vision with Messi’s magic once the veteran returns from injury.
The Argentine defence, which has let them down in all the major tournaments since 1993, is still cagey. Take Marcos Rojo for example. He has replaced Javier Zanetti as the left-back, but failed to impress. The way Cesar Gonzalez skinned him on the day it looked embarrassing at times. Once Cesar left Rojo in his wake and had a clear look at the goal but, in a haste, drove it wide. And then Cesar got a chance inside the Argentine box but could not direct his volley.
The Argentine frontman, Gonzalo Higuain, had a relatively quiet day. Once he was denied by Romo from close in the first half and after the change of ends, he timed his run perfectly to meet Messi’s audacious chip. But his brilliantl volley on the half-turn hit the horizontal.
Overall, Sabella should happy. It was his first match and that too after having just two practice sessions with the team. The long journey to Brazil has begun.
There was a confusion over whether full 90 minutes were played. But sources said that referee A Rowan did play the entire 90 minutes.
Argentina: Sergio Romero, Martin Demichelis, Pablo Zabaleta (Federico Fernandez 78′), Marcos Rojo, Nicolas Otamendi, Javier Mascherano, Angel Di Maria, Ricardo Alvarez (Javier Pastore 61′), Lucho Gonzalez (Jose Sosa 68′), Lionel Messi, Gonzalo Higuain (Sergio Aguero 74′).
Venezuela: Rafael Romo, Fernando Amorebieta (Andres Tunez 86′), Oswaldo Vizcarrondo, Angel Flores, Gabriel Cichero, Nicolas Fedor, Tomas Rincon, Frank Feltscher (Yohandry Orozco 68′), Cesar Gonzalez, Roberto Rosales, Jose Salomon Rondon.
Referee: A. Rowan
Source: The Telegraph