‘Messi’s on top of the world’
Argentine coach Sabella praises captain as ‘decisive player’ but is steeling his players for penalties
ARGENTINA coach Alejandro Sabella is known for his cautious, pragmatic approach, so it is no surprise that his squad have been practicing penalties ahead of this evening's World Cup second round clash with Switzerland.
Sabella said the Argentines have been shooting spot kicks "in an informal way," though he added that doing it in practice is very different from doing it in front of tens of thousands of spectators with the team's World Cup survival at stake.
Brazil beat Chile and Costa Rica defeated Greece in shootouts after the games had finished level after extra time.
Sabella said those matches showed that mental strength and character are crucial to advancing in the World Cup, adding that "a gram of brains weighs more than a kilogram of muscle."
He's got a good example of that in Argentina captain Lionel Messi, the diminutive forward who's been carrying the team on his shoulders in Brazil.
Messi has scored four of Argentina's six goals, including an injury-time winner in the second match against Iran.
"Messi is playing a great World Cup," Sabella said. "Obviously he is a decisive player for us."
Apart from Messi, though, Argentina lacked sparkle in their group matches. Their defence was shaky against Nigeria and the attack faltered against Iran and Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Sabella said at times the team has become disjointed, pulled apart by the speed of its own attack.
"Sometimes we get stretched out because we have strikers who are very fast," Sabella said.
"I think in modern football it's important that teams remain compact, that the distance between defenders and strikers is as short as possible, and that's what we're going to try to achieve."
With a team that's seen as front-heavy - with stars like Messi, Gonzalo Higuain, and Angel Di Maria in the attack, but a relatively modest defence - Sabella also stressed the need to keep the team balanced. He reached for a basketball metaphor to make his point.
"If you watch an NBA game and one team is attacking the crowd is shouting 'defence,' defence, defence. And with football it's the same: attacking and defending and finding a balance," Sabella said.
ARGENTINA v SWITZERLAND, LIVE RTE2 (KO 5.0)