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Why did it take Argentina so long to identify their most important player?

Lionel Messi may have conjured the goalscoring magic, but Ever Banega's role in midfield cannot be understated

First things first there’s a difference between most important player and best player.

Because who are we kidding, Lionel Messi is worth his weight in gold for Argentina and he emphatically underlined that again last night.


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A GOAT performance

EPA
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A GOAT performance

But a tactical switch and change of personnel by the previously baffling Jorge Sampaoli was equally crucial to their victory over Nigeria.

Against Iceland and Croatia Argentina were insipid and predictable, relying far too much on Messi to conjure something from nothing.

Javier Mascherano – a man who has been playing centre-back for four years – was deployed as the creative midfield pivot and, unsurprisingly, it backfired.

Monster Masch is not the player he was

AP:Associated Press
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Monster Masch is not the player he was

Mascherano has been a sensational servant for his country but dictating the tempo and threading eye-of-the-needle passes are not his strengths.

The same cannot be said of Ever Banega.

Sharing the burden

AP:Associated Press
4
Sharing the burden

Banega was drafted into the side against Nigeria and Argentina instantly looked a different entity.

The Sevilla man is of a rare breed, from the Xabi Alonso school of thought capable of making games work around him.

With Banega in midfield Argentina finally have a platform to create from deep rather than dragging Messi further away from goal.

He showed it beautifully with an exquisite assist for his captain, which was finished in typically sumptuous style.

A smooth operator

Reuters
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A smooth operator

Soon after he picked out Angel di Maria with an equally mesmeric pass, only for the PSG winger to be up-ended en route to goal.

Banega’s presence crucially liberates Messi, allowing him to dominate more from his free roaming role instead of shoulder the entire creative burden.

So why on Earth did it take Sampaoli this long to realise?