Argentina v Belgium: There's more to this team than just Lionel Messi, says coach
Alejandro Sabella rejects suggestions Argentina are a one-man team as they seek semi-final place
Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella on Friday rejected suggestions that his team are overly dependent on Lionel Messi by emphasising the extent to which he gets help from his team-mates.
“Any team that has a player like Messi will greatly depend on him,” said Sabella, whose side face Belgium in the World Cup quarter-finals in Brasilia on Saturday.
“But I believe that what he’s doing is the work of the entire team. He’s the best player in the world, but he’s part of a team.”
Messi helped to settle Argentina’s last-16 tie against Switzerland with an extra-time assist for Angel Di Maria, but Sabella was eager to highlight the work of substitute Rodrigo Palacio in the build-up.
“The goal the other day came from a ball won by Palacio – a forward playing as a midfielder,” Sabella said.
“He gave it to Messi and Messi received it in a good position, which allowed him to pass the ball to Di Maria.”
With four goals and two assists to his name, Messi has been directly responsible for six of the seven goals that Argentina have scored in Brazil.
Sabella, though, feels it is unfair to suggest Argentina are over-reliant on the Barcelona superstar, who failed to score at the 2010 tournament in South Africa.
“Four years ago he was criticised. Now they say we depend on Messi too much,” said Sabella. “It’s not easy.”
All of Argentina’s four games to date have been won by a narrow one-goal margin and Sabella accepts that his players will have to raise their game against Marc Wilmots’s dangerous Belgium.
“We have reasons for things, extenuating factors. But we have not reached the level we wanted to reach,” he told a pre-match press conference at the Mane Garrincha National Stadium.
“We’re looking for an improvement. But we’ve seen that this is a very difficult tournament with very even matches.”
Sergio Aguero gave Sabella some good news by returning to training on Friday, having sat out the success against Switzerland after going off with a muscular injury in the 3-2 group-phase win over Nigeria.
Paris Saint-Germain’s Ezequiel Lavezzi has deputised for Aguero in the Manchester City striker’s absence.
While Sabella admitted that he had already settled on his starting XI, he said that he had not yet informed the squad of his plans.
“I have not confirmed the line-up,” he said. “I have it in my head, but I haven’t discussed it with the boys.
“We’ve done recovery work for the past two days. I have an idea as to who the XI will be, but I have to discuss this with the players first.”
Sabella also said that he would not be imitating Brazil counterpart Luiz Felipe Scolari by setting up extra sessions with a psychologist in order to help his players cope with the pressure of expectation.
Scolari summoned sports psychologist Regina Brandao to his team’s training base following their emotional penalty shootout win over Chile, but Sabella does not intend to copy the tactic.
“They [Brazil] analysed things with the psychologist before the World Cup to define their list and due to the events after the match with Chile, they decided to call on the psychologist again,” he said.
“We handle things differently. Obviously these are two great teams, two powers, who have great pressures. But the pressure on Brazil is slightly greater because they are the home team.”