12 July 2014 10:25
Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella is just one win away from silencing his critics once and for all.
One suggestion has been that Sabella does little of the coaching and superstar attacker Lionel Messi has a prominent role in tactics and team selection.
Not only is that disrespectful to the former Estudiantes coach, but also 27-year-old Messi, who has starred under Sabella.
The 59-year-old, set to step down after the final according to his representative, named Messi captain when he took over in August 2011 and his skipper has rarely let him down, scoring 25 international goals since then.
For all of the Barcelona star’s influence, including four goals in the FIFA World Cup group stages, he has yet to net in the knockout phase.
Former Estudiantes midfielder Sabella’s record in charge of Argentina, who he represented eight times as a player, should be enough to avoid criticism.
Heading into Sunday’s World Cup final against Germany, the 59-year-old has guided Argentina to 26 wins in 40 matches with 10 draws and just four losses.
Not even a 65 per cent win ratio can see Sabella praised.
If he was stubborn, Sabella and Argentina may already be out of the World Cup after a poor start to the tournament.
He surprisingly opted for a 5-3-2 in their opening game against Bosnia-Herzegovina, but reverted to a back four at half-time and his team have never looked back.
Sabella’s changes throughout Brazil 2014 have been mostly positive.
Star attacking duo Sergio Aguero and Angel di Maria as well as defender Marcos Rojo were all replaced after injuries and a suspension.
If his team failed to reach at least the last four, the cost for Sabella would likely have been his job.
With Aguero sidelined and Gonzalo Higuain struggling for goals, questions were raised over whether Argentina are too reliant on Messi.
Yet, they were questions easily dismissed. With the world’s best player in his squad, why not try and get the most out of him?
But it seemed a matter of how soon their tournament would end after they edged past Switzerland in the round of 16.
And Carlos Tevez’s name was quickly brought up.
The Juventus forward, who has scored 13 international goals and enjoyed a good 2013-14 campaign in Serie A, has never played under Sabella.
Opting for 32-year-old Inter forward Rodrigo Palacio instead was questioned, yet Sabella’s decision has been of no harm to his team.
For all the talk around Messi, Aguero and Di Maria, Argentina’s defence and goalkeeper Sergio Romero have been under appreciated.
Since conceding three times in the group stages, including twice in a 3-2 win over Nigeria, Sabella’s team have kept three clean sheets.
That is a run of 373 minutes without conceding.
For all the criticism of him, Martin Demichelis has stood up when called upon, Ezequiel Garay has been strong, Pablo Zabaleta his consistent self, Rojo good and Romero excellent.
Sabella’s lack of tinkering represents a conscious choice to allow his players to do the talking. It is an approach that has taken Argentina all the way to the final.
That alone should be enough to silence his critics.