When he is old and grey, Angel Di Maria will sit his grandchildren on his knee and tell them he once played with Lionel Messi. Though revealing, it is a piece of information that hardly seems relevant at a time like this, what with Argentina about to battle it out for first place in Group F at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™.
As an esteemed peer of La Pulga, Di Maria is perfectly placed to make a comparison between the class of 2014 and the Argentina side that conquered the world at Mexico 1986 – one led by another rare talent in Diego Maradona.
“I think the people who played with Diego and the guys who run out with Leo today have been very fortunate,” the man they call El Fideo (The Noodle) told FIFA. “They got the best out of Maradona then, and we need to get the best out of Messi now. I think he’s in fantastic form and let’s hope it stays that way.”
The 27-year-old Rosario-born winger, who was also a team-mate of Messi’s at South Africa 2010, highlighted the need for everyone in the side to play for the No10, just as Maradona’s colleagues did for him 28 years ago:
“Maybe this side has more skilful players than that one, but what really matters is the support we give Leo," he said. "The idea is to make him feel as comfortable as possible. In the long run, that’s the most important thing for all of us.”
Pointing to Messi’s value to the side so far at Brazil 2014, the Real Madrid flyer, who will win his 50th cap if he plays against Nigeria, said: “We’ve had two tough matches (against Bosnia and Herzegovina and Iran) in which we looked for space and couldn’t find any. And then he popped up at just the right time. The key thing for us is that we’re already in the last 16.”
An eagle assessment
Di Maria, who struck the only goal against Nigeria in the Men's Olympic Football Tournament final in 2008, is expecting another tight contest against the Super Eagles: “They’re another hard side to play, as they showed against Bosnia, who everyone tipped to go through. I’ve no doubt they’ll try to defend in numbers and hit us on the break, but they’ve got players who can score at any time.”
Given the problems Argentina have had in breaking down their last two rivals, should they not have a Plan B in place? Responding to that poser with barely a pause, the Albiceleste No7 said: “That’s a decision for the coach to make. He’s the one who decides if we play one way or another. All we try to do is adapt to what he asks of us and give all we can on the pitch to win.”
Pondering the key to the showdown with the Nigerians, he added: “We need to keep doing what we have been doing up to now, and that means being patient in the final third and finding the spaces we need to score goals. To do that we have to move the ball around and pick out team-mates who are in space, so we have be on the move the whole time.”
And if that does not work, then there is always Messi, as his grateful colleague acknowledged: “That’s true. We should be thankful he’s Argentinian.”