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Argentina's Olympic heroes, 10 years on

Where are they now?
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Are Argentina's teams at a disadvantage?

Copa Libertadores
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 By Sam Kelly

Lionel Messi 6/10, Marcos Rojo 4/10 as Argentina bow out to France

Argentina exited the World Cup in a thrilling start to the knockout stage in Kazan, in a match in which both defences looked vulnerable but only Argentina's was seriously tested. For one of the oldest squads at Russia 2018, a rebuilding project is surely not far away, with another disappointing display from 2014's runners-up underlining the scale of the task at hand.

Positives

They've been put out of their suffering.

Negatives

A chaotic tactical setup which leaves serious question marks over Jorge Sampaoli's suitability to guide Argentina towards the next World Cup, a total absence of a defence or a midfield, and the sinking feeling that, having failed to take advantage of a player of Lionel Messi's calibre, it's going to be hard for Argentina to go forward from here.

Manager rating out of 10

3 -- It seems scarcely credible that Sampaoli could acknowledge the changes which had brought improvement and victory over Nigeria and then change things around again, but he did: Lionel Messi on his own up front; two wingers with no one to cross to, and Ever Banega too far up the pitch to find the range of passing he needed to shine. It was a bizarre lineup, and his changes failed to swing the game --Sergio Aguero aside -- and that just underlined the silliness of starting without a centre-forward.

Let it be clear: some of the following player ratings are far more of a reflection of the manager's tactics than of the players themselves.

Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)

GK Franco Armani, 5 -- Not much he could do about the penalty, but he looked flat-footed for Benjamin Pavard's goal, and allowed Kylian Mbappe's first to squirm under his body when he really should have done better.

DF Gabriel Mercado, 4 -- Struggled against the counter in the first half, and along with his defence and midfield colleagues, crumbled as the second wore on.

DF Nicolas Otamendi, 4 -- Otamendi was on course for a 5 here, for merely being the least bad of Argentina's defenders, until his stupid booking and time-wasting argument in stoppage time when his side needed all the seconds they had to try and grab an equaliser.

DF Marcos Rojo, 4 -- Good against Nigeria, but much less impressive here -- in the first half France had three dangerous counter-attacks, and two of them were targeted squarely at Rojo, who failed to respond. Gave away the penalty and was substituted at half-time.

DF Nicolas Tagliafico, 5 -- As in other matches in this tournament, it's difficult to say Tagliafico did an awful lot wrong (in comparison to his teammates), but also hard to pick out what he did right, beyond one or two timely interventions.

MF Enzo Perez, 5 -- Part of a midfield that was being overrun even before he was taken off to make way for Aguero. The system left him seeming confused as to what he should be doing, and he never found the passing range he'd shown against Croatia (in the first half) and Nigeria.

Marcos Rojo was the hero against Nigeria but the goat against France.
Argentina's Marcos Rojo went from hero against Nigeria to goat against France.

MF Javier Mascherano, 4 -- Not everyone agreed that he had a poor game against Nigeria; surely not everyone will agree now, either. And it's not entirely Mascherano's fault -- he was left alone in midfield against a rapid counter-attacking side in a display which brought back memories of the Diego Maradona-managed exit from the 2010 World Cup against Germany. Confirmed his international retirement after the match. Had he done so six months or a year ago, perhaps Argentina could have built something more solid here.

MF Ever Banega, 6 -- Again, not entirely his fault, given that the formation demanded he play higher up the pitch than in his game-running display against Nigeria, and as a result Banega didn't find his passing range until Sergio Aguero's introduction allowed him to drop deeper -- and then only tentatively.

FW Cristian Pavon, 6 -- A winger without a centre-forward to cross to can only do so much. And Pavon did what, given his role and abilities, he had presumably been put in the team to do. For that reason he gets the "starting" mark of 6.

FW Angel Di Maria, 7 -- A beautiful strike for Argentina's equaliser and a bright start to the second half were all that was needed for Di Maria to lay claim to being Argentina's best player. And given his displays in recent years, when Di Maria is Argentina's best player, it's clear something has gone wrong.

FW Lionel Messi, 6 -- Messi flourished playing just to the right of a centre-forward against Nigeria... so here Sampaoli named him as a false 9. With no central attacking partner, Messi was once again expected to be both creator and finisher, but he can't pass the ball to himself. His beautiful assist for Aguero's late goal to give Argentina hope was a frustrating glance of what might have been had the system been different from the start.

Substitutes

DF Federico Fazio, 3 -- Sent on at half-time to provide more solidity than Rojo had in the first half, and managed the impressive trick of being the worst Argentine defender on the pitch, in spite of some stiff competition.

FW Sergio Aguero, 7 -- Came on, led the line, got into good positions behind the French defence, and took his goal well after reading Messi's passing intentions. His introduction could have counted as a masterstroke of a substitution, were it not so painfully obvious that he (or Gonzalo Higuain) should have started the match.

FW Maxi Meza, N/R -- Introduced too late for a rating, and again had a quiet, ineffective game.

Sam Kelly covers Argentine football and the Argentine national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @HEGS_com.

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