Argentina may have swept Italy aside 2-0 Friday without Messi, who has a muscle injury, but context is required given that the Italians failed to reach the World Cup for the first time since 1958 after a 1-0 playoff defeat by Sweden. Granted, there was no Angel di Maria or Sergio Aguero for Argentina Tuesday either but when it came to the crunch, the players wilted. Too often they rely on their Messi "get out of jail" card. It was Messi who fired a hat-trick in their final qualifier against Ecuador – after they went 1-0 down inside the first minute – to secure their spot at the World Cup in Russia. Without him against top level opposition in Madrid, Argentina wilted and to describe their defending as haphazard is generous.
Messi & Argentina stampeded by Spain ??By @omomani pic.twitter.com/yXKt9vKhAk — Goal (@goal) March 28, 2018
Sampaoli may have a squad that allows him the luxury of leaving the likes of forwards Mauro Icardi and Paulo Dybala at home but on the other hand neither of their goalkeepers - Sergio Romero and Willy Caballero - play regularly for their club. “Argentina are going to be living in torment from now until the World Cup,” former international Jorge Valdano said on Spanish radio station Onda Cero. “Messi’s the only reason that anyone is even giving Argentina a sliver of hope of winning the World Cup. (Striker) Gonzalo Higuain is a marked man in Argentina and I wouldn’t like to be in Sampaoli’s shoes either.” Many pundits suggest Messi cannot be considered a truly great player until he achieves something with Argentina. However, judging by Tuesday's performance he has already achieved a lot in helping Argentina reach the finals. How far they go in Russia will surely be dictated by the form and fitness of the Barcelona forward as they prepare to face Iceland, Croatia and Nigeria in the group stage.
Argentina have suffered their joint-heaviest defeat; their third by a 6-1 scoreline:1958: Czechoslovakia 6-1 Argentina 2009: Bolivia 6-1 Argentina 2018: Spain 6-1 Argentina Totally blown away. ? pic.twitter.com/S3V6Vl7TsH — Squawka Football (@Squawka) March 27, 2018