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 By Sam Kelly
Jul 8, 2014

Argentina must replace "Duracell bunny" Di Maria

Angel di Maria struck late to send Argentina through to the quarterfinals.
Angel Di Maria has played a crucial role in helping Argentina reach the semifinals and his absence is a setback for La Albiceleste.

In years to come, we might well remember Lionel Messi's pass to Ángel Di María during the first half of Argentina vs. Belgium as one of the best in World Cup history. I suspect, however, that most will be less quick to remember what happened next; a cut inside and a shot from Di María which resulted in him pulling up.

Minutes later he had to be substituted and the following day Argentina's head doctor Daniel Martínez confirmed he'll miss Wednesday's semifinal against Netherlands. Di María's technical and tactical abilities are important for Argentina, of course, but they're arguably secondary and tertiary, in some ways, to the one thing that sets him aside from almost every other player in the world: the ability to run, run, run some more and then keep running long after everyone else has stopped.

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So how will Argentina be affected by not having their Duracell bunny in midfield?

There are a couple of possibilities and at the time of writing it's not clear which Alejandro Sabella is going to use. The first is that Argentina stick to the rough 4-4-2 they employed against Belgium, with Ezequiel Lavezzi on the left of midfield, bringing a replacement in on the right. That might be Benfica midfielder Enzo Pérez -- the tactically versatile utility man who had an excellent season just gone as a defensive midfielder but can also play further forward -- or it could be former Liverpool winger Maxi Rodríguez.

Pérez replaced Di María against Belgium but of course by the time that happened Argentina were already a goal up, so whether Sabella will go with him from the start if the 4-4-2 is the system of choice isn't clear. All the same, the Benfica player seems to be the favourite at present to start on the right.

That could change, however, if Sabella decides that the best way to counter the threat of the Dutch attack is a return to the 5-3-2 used in the opening match against Bosnia-Herzegovina. Marcos Rojo seems set to return from suspension at left back whatever, so the back five would see José Basanta move into the middle and Ezequiel Lavezzi dropped from left midfield to accommodate Rojo; Rojo and Basanta would thus be charged with doubling up on Arjen Robben on the Dutch right.

If that strategy is used, it seems most likely that Argentina's midfield three would consist (from right to left) of Pérez, Javier Mascherano and Lucas Biglia. That seems uninspiring, but crucially it has a lot more balance to it than the midfield three used so poorly in the Bosnia-Herzegovina match; Maxi Rodríguez played on the right in that trio (with Mascherano and Di María), and hared up the pitch every time Argentina won the ball back, leaving Mascherano with no-one to give it to.

Clearly, however Argentina line up they'll be weaker for Di María's exclusion. Whether he's played well or not, his running has provided a spark from midfield to complement Lionel Messi's iron will and nerves of steel which have defined Argentina's tournament so far. Without Di María, adaptation will be essential for Argentina's survival. On Wednesday, we'll learn a lot about just how versatile this side really are.