Argentina’s Tournament Run Has Been About Defense, Not Lionel Messi

Pablo Zabaleta, Robin van PersieSometimes the media gets so worked up about a story that no matter what happens to the contrary, the original story is the only logical explanation. When it comes to the 2014 World Cup, that story has been Lionel Messi.

Leading up to the start of the World Cup, many had tapped this as the World Cup of Messi. Much as in 1986 when Diego Maradona led Argentina to a championship, Messi was supposed to take this tournament by storm.

Sure, he has scored four goals so far this tournament, each goal coming in matches that were decided by a single tally in the group stages. And yes, it is inarguable that Messi is one of, if not the best, individual player in the world.

But the idea that you will hear on a majority of American major sports networks that this team is Messi plus 10, is absolutely ludicrous.

You could argue midfield maestro Angel di Maria has been superior to his countrymen Messi, pulling strings and being the driving force behind the Argentina offense, but the real star has been the defense.

So far during the knockout rounds Argentina has not allowed a single goal despite playing two extra time matches. In particular the goalless match in the semifinal against Netherlands Wednesday was impressive, as the back four shut down Arjen Robben, Robin van Persie and Wesley Sneijder.

This is a group that was expected to be a weak link on a squad that had Messi, Sergio Aguero, Higuain and Lavezzi. Yet it has somehow turned into the side’s biggest strength.

Even goalkeeper Sergio Romero, who struggled for playing time with his club side Monaco, has had a massive role to play in the tournament, saving two penalties that helped Argentina advance to the final against Germany.

“It’s luck, that’s the truth. You can dive (the right way) and not make it, like (what) happened to their goalkeeper,” Romero said after the match. “I had confidence, thank God things turned out well.”

So if Argentina can take down the German machine they will face off against in the final, can we, for a moment try and forget about the story we have crafted for ourselves and look at what is really going on here.

Messi is the team’s best player, without question, but he hasn’t been as dominant as many claim this World Cup. He hasn’t even been the best player in the tournament for his team.

Even now I am watching Taylor Twellman and Mike Tirico of ESPN discuss on SportsCenter whether or not Messi can win the final. Not Argentina. Messi.

Sometimes single players can lead a team to a championship almost on his or her own, see Kemba Walker at UConn, but this is not one of those times.

So let’s give credit to Pablo Zabaleta, Martín Demichelis, Ezequiel Garay and Marcos Rojo and hope they can keep up the level of play they’ve shown so far this tournament.

They are definitely going to need it against Germany on Sunday if Argentina has any hope at claiming it’s third World Cup title.