Argentina have been blessed with talented players of heroic proportions through the years, no doubt. Maradona, Valdano, Burruchaga, Batistuta, Aimar, Crespo, and Riquelme in recent past. Now we have Messi, Higuain, Aguero and Di Maria, to name a few.
Add to that the messianic storyline that always accompany the national team and its heroes every time they gather and compete in the biggest stages of international football in their quest for golden glory, La Albiceleste always provides compelling and ‘larger than life’ narratives come the big tournaments.
But after the glorious stint of Maradona and his Argentine Argonauts in the late 80’s, this current generation’s crop of players have been the closest to replicating the storied squad’s return to the promised land with Lionel Messi at the forefront. However, despite coming close on a few occasions (especially in 2014 World Cup), they eventually came up short.
— Selección Argentina (@Argentina) June 13, 2018
People focus too much on Messi for failing to bring Argentina to international football glory, as if he is the only one responsible in that in coming up short. But people tend to overlook as to why the hero’s odyssey is still far from done, no matter how close he’s gotten to achieve it. That often overlooked factor is the ‘key’.
If Messi, with his extraordinary load of responsibility and curse-like burden thrust towards him by a nation that goes with his blessing of immense footballing talent, is being labelled as the next ‘D10S’ or footballing saviour, the key that could help him achieve the prophecy of lifting the World Cup is his archangel or better yet, ‘Angel de la Guarda’ – none other than Angel Di Maria.
The Angel of Death
This generation’s Argentina, in its full strength, have always been a fearsome attacking machine.
Aside from the obvious Lionel Messi, there’s Gonzalo Higuain, Sergio Aguero, the new wonder Paulo Dybala and (of course) the creative force, Angel Di Maria.
Mainly operating as a right-winger, but with a wealth of versatility to play as an attacking midfielder and even as a left-winger, Di Maria’s main strengths are his pace, dribbling ability and vision, which with all three combined, make him a truly world-class creator.
He’s also a reliable and lethal finisher, especially in times when his team’s main strikers are struggling to find the back of the net, making several of his goals scored very crucial ones especially for Argentina, one of which is his 118th minute goal against Switzerland in the Round of 16 of the 2014 World Cup.
These qualities make him the bane of many of the opposition’s defence as he alone, can wreak havoc and create chances for his team, especially from the flank which could compliment the brilliance of Messi and the talents of the other strikers.
Here is the main thing and the usual trend: If Di Maria is in La Albiceleste’s lineup, there is a sense of assurance that the team will be able to deliver.
What a player 🔥
Here are Angel Di Maria’s top five goals for PSG pic.twitter.com/PY5ykByF0P
— Goal (@goal) June 7, 2018
Finally, coming off a fruitful season for his club Paris-Saint Germain, Angel will most definitely be in high spirits heading into the World Cup which definitely is nothing short of positive for the national team.
Apocalypse Cancelled… Thrice!
But no matter how seemingly lethal and potent Argentina were with a full lineup, particularly with the presence of Di Maria, the stellar squad came up short in three occasions, the first and most important of which was the 2014 World Cup Final.
In that particular tournament, despite the team labouring en route to slim wins in the group stages, come the Round of 16, Di Maria scored a 118th minute goal in extra time against an inspired Switzerland defence to avert a penalty shootout and bring Argentina to the quarter-finals.
In the round of 16 against Switzerland Messi played a huge role in helping Argentina advance. He was the one who assisted Di Maria’s clutch goal in the 2nd half of extra time and was primarily the heart and brain of Argentina. pic.twitter.com/wD9xy44ZkN
— Sapin🇦🇷 (@SapinCule) June 7, 2018
In the quarter-final match against Belgium’s ‘Golden Generation’, Di Maria had a hand to Higuain’s 8th minute goal before suffering an injury in the 33rd minute that ended his participation in the campaign.
*Messi dispossesses Kompony*
*Holds of De Bruyne and Felaini, disorganizing Belgiums formation*
*Releases the ball to Di Maria which leads to a goal*
Yet Messi’s footprints are nowhere to be seen on the scoresheet which results in “Did nothing in the KO’s” narrative. pic.twitter.com/Gz9oCBVgXj
— BreatheMessi (@BreatheWC) June 8, 2018
Without its ‘archangel’, Argentina just barely made the final after winning via penalties in a goalless semi-final match against the Netherlands. Eventually, Messi and company bowed to Germany in the final after Mario Gotze scored the only goal in extra time.
After that campaign that ended in a sorry defeat, chances to gain consolation and mini-redemption via the 2015 Copa America and the Copa America Centenario the following year also came to heartbreaking disappointments, stumbling at the final hurdle against the same rivals, Chile.
Di Maria on both campaigns featured brightly racking up goals and assists until injury halted his participation. In 2015 Copa America, he suffered a hamstring injury in the 29th minute of the semi-final match while in 2016 Centenario, he was only able to play until the second game of the group stage.
Such history of suffering fitness issues in international tournaments impacted Argentina in which his absence denied La Albiceleste such a significant creative force that could have lifted Messi to the winners’ pedestal.
Devoid of creativity and with pace significantly diminished, the South American giants came out empty handed in those supposedly glorious quests.
2018: Fulfilment of the Prophecy?
After an arduous campaign just to qualify in Russia, Argentina is back for a possible swan song, and a final shot at glory for many of its talented attacking players, Messi and Di Maria included, 2018 will be the culmination of their journey.
Of course, all eyes will be on superstar Lionel Messi as he is expected to lead once again (and probably for the last time as a player) his countrymen towards winning the FIFA World Cup.
— Selección Argentina (@Argentina) May 31, 2018
But considering the rest of the lineup, and Argentina’s recent run of results in the major tournaments, Di Maria’s participation will be vital in the squad’s chances to mount a good run of results and eventually in winning the title. In essence, Di Maria is the real talisman of the national team, which is not thrust in the limelight.
Whether the squad in heavenly colours will be able to seize their destiny and join the pantheon of greats, or dramatically fall down in failure and deal with fates’ unkindness, a big part of their chances will lie not just with the great Messi but, more importantly, with Angel Di Maria.
2018 is the year of reckoning for La Albiceleste, but the MESSIah and the rest of Argentina cannot do it by themselves. They need Angel Di Maria – the archangel who most likely holds the key to eternal glory.