Argentina may have squeezed through to the knockout stages of the World Cup in nail-biting fashion on Tuesday but again there was little to suggest the two-time winners can go deep in the tournament.
Not even a lively performance from Lionel Messi – at least in the first half in St Petersburg – as they edged out Nigeria 2-1 to finish second in Group D will give their large traveling band of supporters in Russia much in the way of confidence.
Instead, the army of light blue-clad fans at the Saint Petersburg Stadium, where Argentines impressively dominated the stands, are likely to be feeling immense relief rather than unbridled optimism.
Changes made to the team for the last group game were designed to play to Messi’s strengths, with Angel Di Maria and Gonzalo Higuain restored to the starting line-up to feature alongside him in a preferred 4-3-3 formation that sought to banish the ghosts of a miserable showing in their previous Group D game – a horror 3-0 loss to Croatia in Nizhny Novgorod last week where Argentina looked tactically impoverised and Messi was anonymous.
Under-fire coach Jorge Sampaoli also included Ever Banega to add some midfield muscle and spray the passes that Messi could run onto and it did not take long to do the trick.
But while Messi’s 14th minute goal came exactly as planned – and set Argentina on course for the victory they needed to progress – their performance dipped markedly after the break and they then looked to contrive to throw it all away.