Argentina’s 2-1 defeat of Bosnia and Herzegovina in their 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ debut is hardly likely to generate great delight among Albiceleste fans. That said, there are times when all that matters is getting the job done, and this was one such occasion.
Those fans are likely to make a similar observation about the game as the players themselves did after it was all over, namely that Alejandro Sabella’s side were more fluent after the restart, when the coach switched from the 5-3-2 formation he began the game with to the 4-3-3 that had worked so well for him in the qualifiers. The introduction of Fernando Gago and Gonzalo Higuain for Hugo Campagnaro and Maxi Rodriguez also helped his side approach their usual rhythm.
One man who saw things that way was midfielder Javier Mascherano, who was making his 99th appearance for his country. “Even though we took an early lead, we struggled to get into the game in the first half,” he told FIFA. “We played better in the second, though.”
“We looked more like ourselves with our usual formation. Why the changes? Well, the coach thought that was the best way to start before then deciding that he had to change. That what it’s all about.”
Right-back Pablo Zabaleta, who was finally making his World Cup debut at the age of 29, also pointed to the improvement in Argentina’s performance after the break, while making an interesting tactical observation:
“When we changed to 4-3-3 our first pass into the forwards was better, we were organised and we got more people forward,” he said, also in conversation with FIFA. “When we do that, we’re a handful for anyone.”
A glass half full
Neither player had been expecting an easy night, a feeling that had nothing to do with formations or tactics, as Mascherano explained: “We knew it wasn’t going to be our greatest game. The important thing was to win because opening games at the World Cup are never easy, even more so when you have a few players who’ve never experienced one before. All that anxiety has gone now, though.”
For his part, Zabaleta took a pragmatic view of the evening’s events: “Obviously we tried to win by playing good football, but what matters today is the result. What counted was getting the three points and we did that. We still know, though, that we have plenty of room for improvement, which is a good thing.”
One of the many positive points that the two-time world champions can take from their defeat of the Bosnians is that Lionel Messi got back to goalscoring ways, having gone a whole 623 minutes without hitting the back of the net in a FIFA World Cup match, his last world finals goal coming against Serbia and Montenegro at Germany 2006.
“We are all very pleased to see him get his goal because he’d gone a while without scoring in the World Cup,” said Zabaleta of Messi’s second-half strike. “We hope he can get a lot more too.”
Before taking their leave the Albiceleste duo had special words of praise for the thousands of Argentina fans who made themselves noticed at the legendary Maracana with their singing.
“I wasn’t surprised by the support,” said Zabaleta. “You expect that from Argentina fans. We felt like the home side today and we’re proud of that.”
Mascherano was no less effusive: “I’ve never experienced anything like that outside my country. I hope they keep supporting us because they’re going to help us a lot.”