World Cup Day 4: Argentina vs. Bosnia-Herzegovina Analysis

Messi's marvelous goal electrified the Maracana crowd. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

Messi’s marvelous goal electrified the Maracana crowd. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

First half

1) Despite a devastating early, third-minute blunder–and a horrible start in the country’s first WC appearance–the Bosnian defense did an excellent job in containing Lionel Messi during the first half, suffocating the Argentine star on each time he touched the ball. As a result, Messi acquired a more passive on-field character, hardly challenging defenders or attempting to overcome and fight through Bosnia’s laser-focus on him. Furthermore, as the first 45 progressed along, play in the defensive third of the field noticeably strengthened for the Dragons, possibly indicating that this aspect of the team is stronger than once believed–especially considering their offensive counterparts.

2) The scoreboard becomes even more deceptive upon examining basic halftime statistics: Bosnia-Herzegovina had the advantage in both shots wide and on target, while Argentina had more fouls, all of which would seemingly point to Bosnia as the team winning the game. The Argentines had the edge in possession percentage–entirely due to the style they employed–but the Dragons still better imposed themselves offensively during the first half of play, and displayed higher levels of determination and liveliness.

3) Perhaps the quick goal engendered a complacent attitude in La Albiceleste, as the Argentines operated stagnantly throughout the pitch and lost offensive creativity following Bosnia’s own goal. Rather than look to further cultivate a talented but so far unrefined attack (and doing so for future games that will feature tougher opponents), the players seemed intent on simply draining the clock with the sole objective of preserving their lead. Regardless, their opponents fostered potent attacks and goal-scoring chances, at least in some part due to the plenty of open space that Argentina left in their half of the midfield.

Second half 

4) Not only have they stayed resolute on defense and minimized the impact of any one of Messi’s actions on the pitch, but the Bosnians have continued their superb ball transfer and movement going from the defense to the midfielding group in the early stages of the second half.

5) It took a lengthy 65 minutes, but Lionel Messi finally broke through in this game. Starting with a run near the bottom of the midfield circle, La Pulga paced towards goal, received the ball back after a one-touch connection with second half sub Gonzalo Higuain, and perfectly slotted in a goal while running across the face of the net, leaving Bosnian defenders tumbled over each other behind him. After the sublime goal, the whole Argentine attack sprung back to life–their creative and explosive offensive identity resurfacing–and more effective spacing between the players emerged up front. Still primarily distributing the ball, Messi became more comfortable following his goal, one that was cathartic for a previously-anxious Argentine faithful that packed the Maracana.

The goal by Ibisevic (9) was more a rightful product of game-long efficiency, than consolation. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

The goal by Ibisevic (9) was more a rightful product of game-long efficiency, than consolation. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

6) A much-deserved goal for Bosnia-Herzegovina arrived on the 84th minute, when substitute forward Vedad Ibisevic sprinted ahead and received a through ball that he bounced off the goalie to score, cutting his team’s deficit in half. Although the Dragons pushed a few more times towards goal and released some shots in the remaining time, they failed to equalize, allowing Argentina to escape in a victory that has raised more questions than answers–signaling potential lineup changes for the remaining two group games, and particularly the strong chance of plugging Higuain back in as a starter. As for the other side, the Bosnians have nothing to hang their heads about. The defense stymied Argentina’s forceful counterattacks–overall, likely no other team until the quarterfinals will have done a better job of restraining the Argentine attack–and with its offense showing power and resourcefulness, Bosnia-Herzegovina should unquestionably achieve second place in Group F in the coming weeks.

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