New Argentina coach Alex Sabella says his side have laid their Lionel Messi "psychosis" to rest after opening their FIFA World Cup™ qualifying campaign with a 4-1 win over Chile on yesterday. Barcelona superstar Messi was at his majestic best - following on from some below-par showings in the national shirt - scoring once in a display which saw the Argentinians cast off the demons of a failed July Copa America campaign on home turf.
Messi, who scored goals for fun as Barcelona terrorised teams at home and in Europe all season, cut a dejected figure at the Copa, save for a fine group phase showing against Costa Rica, and that prompted some observers to ask if he would ever really fit into the national team. But after his performance against Chile Sabella insisted things were now clicking.
"This goal will be important for Lionel to lay to rest this apparent collective psychosis that he can't do the business with Argentina," said Sabella, who succeeded Sergio Batista after the Copa America. "But this (scoring) is not a worry anyway as he is always extraordinary and if he does not score he comes up with the move which enables someone else to," Sabella observed.
Messi notched the second goal and was generally a thorn in Chilean flesh although many of the plaudits went to Gonzalo Higuain, the Real Madrid striker netting a hattrick at the Estadio Monumental in Buenos Aires. Before the match Sabella had praised Messi effusively, saying of his captain: "In general terms, Messi never plays badly. The only thing is that you always have to evaluate his performances in a general context. There are many games in which Messi has shone for Argentina, but because he hasn't perhaps been decisive people are left thinking that he has not played as well."
Chile struggled without key men such as Alexis Sanchez, Gary Medel and Pablo Contreras. But Sabella says they provided a stiff test. "They attacked and were aggressive - but we concentrated and were solid," said the former Sheffield United man. Argentina have not lost a FIFA World Cup qualifier at the venue for 18 years and Higuain, two of whose goals were laid on by Real club-mate Angel Di Maria, noted "it was important to get off on the right foot and we did just that. Now we have to keep this up."
On Tuesday, Argentina, looking for one of four automatic regional qualifying slots - Brazil as hosts are guaranteed a berth and one more is available via the playoffs - travel for their second qualifier to Venezuela, surprise Copa semi-finalists in July but who went down 2-0 in Ecuador.