Argentina's dream in the World Cup was stopped in the first major match: it fell 2-0 to Nigeria in the knockout stages and said goodbye to the tournament.
An image was repeated in the first half and showed much of what happened on the field: Javier Mascherano called again and again to captain Agustín Giay to give directions. He also spoke with Tomás Avilés and Valentín Gómez. And it is that Argentina played uncomfortably in that initial stage because it could not overcome the individual persecutions proposed by the intense Nigeria.
Mascherano had already warned how the African cast would play: scoring man to man all over the field. Maybe that's why he made a small tweak in the scheme: he left the 4-2-2-2 to bet on a 4-2-3-1, with Luka Romero as a left pointer and Valentín Carboni as a hooker. It is worth remembering that in the first duels the National Team was planted with two drivers, the aforementioned Carboni on the right and Matías Soulé, this time substitute, on the left. But those movements that Masche proposed did not work and he spent it giving indications. Only in the last minutes the national cast could grab the rival defense badly and generate some danger.
Valentin Carboni laments a missed chance. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)
All Argentine footballers had their assigned mark that followed them everywhere in the African field. Thus, if Carboni lay on the right until there he was accompanied by Daniel Daga. The same with Redondo and Lawal or Tanlongo and Nadi. He could not progress from the Argentine possession and did not find passes between the lines to find Carboni. The one who best understood how to play was Luka Romero. The Lazio player was the most mobile and took out his marker, the right side, to leave space for Valentín Barco. The defender of Boca took good centers, although there was no finesse in the definition.
Brian Aguirre did not stand: he did not find the place to unbalance, beyond that he started to pure gambeta. His weight was diluted because he did not understand how to play. It also cost him when it came to pressing.
This time, and as expected, Federico Redondo – he got into the team for Máximo Perrone – did not have freedoms to handle the ball, although Fernando's son showed that he puts strong leg if the game requires it. Tanlongo, for his part, kept an eye on African bullfights.
Nigeria did not get behind it, it should be said. He looked for the physical game, tried to come out playing from the bottom and proposed the individual pairing. It went well, although in a couple of inattentions Argentina generated danger. That has this kind of strategy, widely used by Marcelo Bielsa: a second of distraction can pay dearly. He had only one situation: a left-footed shot off a full-back by Ibrahim Muhammad that went near Gomes Gerth's right post.
In the complement, Nigeria threw themselves a few meters further back. Mascherano did not move the bench and opted to change the tips to Romero and Aguirre. That castling didn't work either because the Newell's guy wasn't in his afternoon.
Tochukwu Nadi, the best on the pitch, crashed a deflection onto the crossbar in the 11th minute and it was a warning of what was to come a little while later. The goal of the Africans was not against, but pure power. The archer took long and high, Tanlongo did not prevail, Barco was beaten in the jump and Muhammad defined after winning the back to Giay.
Rilwanu Haliru Sarki scores Nigeria's second goal in San Juan and seals Argentina's elimination. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)
And the nerves came, so typical of juveniles. Argentina attacked a lot and deserved more. The anxiety did not let him define, as in that one that Maestro Puch had under the arc and that bounced off a defender. The most moving continued to be Romero, who was denied the goal by the stick in the clearest.
And with another ball from the goalkeeper, Nigeria scored the second. For the premature goodbye of the National Team; so that the questions accumulate.
San Juan. Special envoy.