Three Points: Argentina defeat Bosnia-Herzegovina
RIO DE JANEIRO -- Here are three reactions to Argentina's 2-1 Group F win over Bosnia-Herzegovina.
1. Argentina win but don't convince
Long after joyous Argentina fans had taken over the Maracana, Lionel Messi finally took hold of this World Cup. Brazil's greatest rivals will be hoping it is a scene that repeats itself on July 13 in the same stadium, but to do that, they will also have to make a significant step up from this 2-1 win over Bosnia-Herzegovina.
The World Cup debutants, by contrast, have shown they are well capable of stepping up to the stage. Their industry really stifled Argentina, to the point that the laboured pace of the South American side's play was greatly at odds with a whirlwind opening and some of Messi's blazing runs.
Alex Sabella's players did seem like they wanted to make up for 28 years of waiting straight away, as they were ahead within three minutes, with the relentless tempo of their approach forcing Sead Kolasinac into an unfortunate own goal. Messi claimed his team's second of the game -- and only his second in three World Cups -- to seal it, but Argentina never quite looked comfortable.
That was possibly as much due to their new formation as the Bosnians, for Argentina never completely got to grips with Sabella's 5-3-2. Following the experiment, the manager has a lot to think about if his side is to succeed in this tournament. Messi, at least, provided some peace of mind.
2. Messi's game of two halves
As the Maracana chanted his name, Messi himself let out a primal roar. It would be obvious -- but wrong -- to compare the celebration of his goal to Diego Maradona's famous strike against Greece in 1994 and also something of a stretch to draw the parallel between this display and that of his illustrious countryman in 1986.
Messi did not quite take command of this game, but he at least started to exert greater control. His was a trademark goal that delicately found the space before decisively driving the ball home. From there, it was like he was released, as revealed by that roar. There was a greater freedom to his game, a greater frisson to his play. One run late in the second half was particularly breathtaking, and it was unlucky his one-two ended with a desperate late challenge.
It all marked some change from the first half, in which he was much more listless. It couldn't even be said that so much history and expectation were weighing him down, given that he seemed content to lazily roll by. When Bosnia eventually got on the ball in the first period, there was a passage of passing about five yards from Messi, but he did little more than stroll around it and looked completely unwilling to press in the manner he used to.
It led to an attack -- and should have been a warning. His drop-off seemed to reflect that of Argentina, as they were playing at a much slower pace than the whirlwind opening few minutes. Once Sabella changed the system at halftime, however, there was a change in Messi. The first sign was when he weaved through the centre of the pitch to set up Sergio Aguero. The Manchester City forward blazed over and clearly hadn't found his range, but it soon became apparent that was exactly what Messi had been doing.
He delivered and scored what was a crucial goal in the context of the game. It lifted the pressure on Argentina and also alleviated some of the pressure on him.
3. Hope for the defeated
Bosnia-Herzegovina celebrated a historic goal for the country, but it could have been a historic result. Substitute Vedad Ibisevic's strike was just reward for the way his squad abrasively took the game to Argentina. They showed the two-time champions no respect and were certainly not cowed by the stage.
Far from being stunned by the early goal after such a long wait to get to this stage, they stood up admirably, and Sabella even paid them the ultimate compliment by ripping up his tactical plans and switching back to a 4-3-3 at halftime.
It soon became apparent that it was an absolute waste to use four players to effectively just mark one forward in Edin Dzeko, and the space elsewhere was allowing Bosnia-Herzegovina to take control.
That was at least the case until Messi took up that 65th-minute ball, but even then, Argentina weren't allowed to rest. Safet Susic will surely be confident his side can make it out of the group stage, at least.
Miguel Delaney is London correspondent for ESPN and also writes for the Irish Examiner, the Independent, Blizzard and assorted others. He is the author of an award-nominated book on the Irish national team called 'Stuttgart to Saipan' (Mentor) and was nominated for Irish sports journalist of the year in 2011.