Savaged Messi finally on song as Argentina breathe again

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While he may have been criticised for not partaking in the national anthem, Lionel Messi was certainly on song in his new role, as Argentina finally clicked into gear.

With his own employment and Argentina’s Copa America hopes left hanging by a thread, Sergio Batista finally made the vital changes the whole of Argentina had been screaming for.

Out went Ezequiel Lavezzi, who had run into one too many blind alleys. Out went Carlos Tevez, who despite being particularly popular with the general public, divided opinion within the squad. Also out was Éver Banega, who in truth had played very well bar the inexplicable gaffe that cost Argentina a goal against Bolivia.

In came Sergio Agüero – the man responsible for changing Argentinae’s opening game, Angel Di Maria to provide width, and Gonzalo Higuain to provide a centre-forward figure.

Dispensing with the Barcelona project he’d been so open about copying, Batista changed his shape to the only one he’s ever had success with - the 4-2-1-3 he used to win Olympic gold in 2008. Batista though, wasn’t the story from this game.

Lionel Messi, despite being the best player on the planet, is still unloved in his homeland. Having never played league football in his native country, there was never a chance for local fans to get attached to him, or even for opposition fans to see his ability first-hand.

Similar to the attitude of Brazilians, Argentines want to see players doing well in their own league rewarded with a place in the national team; any player that moves to Europe is instantly significantly less interesting to them.

Carlos Tevez is ‘el jugador del pueblo’ (the player of the people) for a variety of reasons. Not only did he play for, and bring great success to, the best-supported club in the country in Boca Juniors, but his tough background means that he will always be a role model.

Messi moved to Barcelona aged 13 and therefore this emotional attachment never developed, and when the chips are down - as they have been in the first week of this Copa America - it’s Messi that is savaged by the Argentine media and public.

Despite being the most dangerous player in the first two Albiceleste games, he was criticised for not singing the national anthem, while Carlos Tevez’ selfish - and sometimes brainless - play escaped criticism entirely.

Against Costa Rica in a match that would ultimately decide their fate, the diminutive Barcelona forward simply excelled.

It was a performance of constant and genuine danger, and with so many other attacking players alongside him, he created, and created, and created until his team-mates could spurn no more chances and eventually went ahead on the brink of half time.

How he didn’t score himself may baffle him slightly, but the sheer number and quality of Messi’s final balls in Cordoba was incredible.

But Messi wasn’t the only one to impress. Fernando Gago may face an uncertain future at club level but his contribution was excellent.

Despite missing a host of good chances, Gonzalo Higuain provided the attacking figurehead Argentina had been so lacking in the tournament.

Finding themselves in a similar predicament, Brazil should now be expected to start Fred as the spearhead of their attack, and as far as playmaking goes, Paulo Henrique Ganso would do well to play half as well as Messi in this fixture.

It is probably important to note that this Costa Rican side are not exactly world-beaters, and there will certainly be tougher tests to come. Any flaws will now have to emerge at the quarter-final stage, where the hosts will meet one of Chile, Peru and Uruguay.

The important thing for Batista though, is that he’s got his team through the group stage. But he knows that if Messi continues conducting with Mozartian genius, then the players will finally all be singing from the same hymn sheet.