Argentina try to come to terms with criticism

BUENOS AIRES - Argentina are playing badly at the Copa America because the whole squad are underperforming, leading players said while defending Lionel Messi from attacks by media and fans.

"Lionel's feeling very bad... it's the first time he's been whistled [at a match], this is very hard," Messi's father Jorge told local Radio 10 referring to Wednesday's 0-0 draw with Colombia in Santa Fe.

The hosts drew their first two matches against Bolivia and Colombia and need to beat a second-string Costa Rica side in their final Group A match on Monday in Cordoba to secure a quarter-final berth in a tournament they started as favourites.

Coach Sergio Batista's team have been a disappointment with their play and few goal chances and might have lost both matches.

"The truth is that the individual level of all [of us] is not the best and that rebounds on the team," captain Javier Mascherano told a news conference at Argentina's training base outside the capital.

"Leo's case is not isolated. We all feel frustration. That doesn't mean Argentina are playing badly because of Messi's fault, but rather the reverse," the holding midfielder said.

A fair bit of the criticism from media and fans has been aimed at Messi who was expected to be the outstanding player of the tournament but has yet to deliver.


Experienced full-back Javier Zanetti also tried to lift the responsibility from Messi, who during the 2010 World Cup qualifiers was criticised for not playing as well for Argentina as he does for European champions Barcelona.

"We didn't expect a start to the Copa like this one... it's down to us to play a great match [against Costa Rica], try to get Argentina playing well, pleasing the fans and surely the path will be different," Zanetti said.

Mascherano, Messi's Barcelona team-mate, said Argentina needed from Monday to play "another Copa America" against Costa Ricans motivated by their surprise win over Bolivia.

"There's not much time to feel sorry, we have to pick up our heads, analyse what we did wrong and improve for Monday because it's a final and we have to win it," he said.

Batista's possession tactics were found wanting by well-organised opponents and both Mascherano and Zanetti said they were open to changes against Costa Rica.

"Batista likes to play good football, but if he has to change to benefit the team, he'll surely do so. We're well aware we're not generating football," said Mascherano.

"For us it would be no drama [to change]. When you change the system, you do it believing that's how you'll play better."