BRASILIA, Brazil (AP) — Is Argentina’s World Cup only about Lionel Messi?
Coach Alejandro Sabella seems to be getting a little exasperated with the observation – also made by Argentina great Diego Maradona – that his team is overly reliant on the four-time world player of the year.
Messi scored four of Argentina’s six goals in the group stage in Brazil, including the decisive strikes in two of the three group games, and set up Angel Di Maria for the winning goal in the second round against Switzerland.
Ahead of Saturday’s quarterfinal against Belgium, Sabella responded to another question about his playmaker’s significant influence by saying: “I repeat: Any team that has a player like Messi will greatly depend on him.”
But Sabella also said “there is teamwork” in Argentina’s game and interrupted a reporter Friday to describe, in detail, the crucial role of Rodrigo Palacio in midfield to win possession and pass to Messi before Di Maria’s goal in extra time.
“I’m sorry, if Palacio hadn’t been there, we wouldn’t have had a goal by Argentina,” Sabella said.
Messi’s success depends on the team providing him with the ball in attacking areas, Sabella said.
“I believe that this is work that is done by the entire team,” the coach said. “Obviously he (Messi) is the best player in the world but there is teamwork.”
Maradona, who led Argentina to the 1986 World Cup title, has told Latin American media that it’s dangerous for the 2014 team to rely only on the supremely skilful Barcelona forward.
Possibly a little frustrated, Sabella pointed out Messi didn’t deliver at the World Cup in 2010 when Maradona was coach and Argentina was criticized for that. Now he’s Argentina’s star – and there’s still a negative reaction.
“It’s a team that supports Messi, makes him stronger, makes him feel well. And therefore Messi performs as he’s doing,” Sabella said. “Four years ago he was criticized. Now we say we greatly depend on Messi. It is not easy.”
The land of Maradona and Messi is a two-time World Cup champion, winning in 1978 and ’86. But there are sometimes unreasonable expectations back home, Sabella said.
“It’s a cultural issue. It’s the way we are,” the 59-year-old coach and former national team midfielder said. “When I was little I always heard that we were the best in the world. However, we had not been world champions.
“We thought we were the best. It is part of our culture. We will wait to see if we can cross that line.”
Gerald Imray is on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GeraldImrayAP