An early own goal and a fine strike from Lionel Messi were enough to give Argentina a win in what was a generally disappointing game against Bosnia and Herzegovina on Sunday night.
The opening half proved a disappointment for Bosnians and neutrals alike. Not just because the World Cup debutants were behind before three minutes had elapsed but also because the much vaunted Argentinians failed to ignite despite being gifted such an early lead.
When Mujdza fouled Aguero wide on Argentina’s left flank the free was floated towards the back post where it attracted little attention from either side. But Argentina’s left wing-back Marcos Rojo got a touch and the ball then popped off the unfortunate Sead Kolasinac before slipping over the Bosnian goal-line.
It was as uneventful a goal as could be imagined and it prompted an equally uneventful half. With the world waiting for Lionel Messi to put his stamp on this tournament he remained coyly in the shadows and it was Bosnia who looked the more interesting of the two teams.
It soon became clear that, despite the concession of an early own goal, Bosnia possessed a very well organised defensive unit and Argentina caused them very few problems. Javier Mascherano fired a shot straight at Asmir Begovic on 32 minutes and that was about the sum total of their attacking contribution.
Bosnia, on the other hand, forced Romero into a sharp intervention on 13 minute when he whipped a ball off the toe of Izet Hajrovic, and Edin Dzeko turned on the edge of the Argentine box on 33 minutes before firing wastefully over. The closest they came was when Senad Lulic met a corner in the 41st minute and his header was turned around the post by Romero.
Argentina introduced Gonzalo Higuain and Fernando Gago at half time with Higuain’s presence designed to give the Bosnian defence something to think about. But, although the pace of the game increased slightly from ‘pedestrian to ‘pedestrian in a hurry’, little else changed.
Argentina remained listless while Bosnia continued to look organised and a little bit dangerous. On 55 minutes Gago fed Aguero in a good position to the left of Begovic’s goal, but the Manchester City striker hooked his effort high over the bar. At the other end Fernandez headed Hajrovic’s driven cross from the right out of the hands of his own keeper but safely away for a corner.
As the hour mark passed the game Hajrovic gave away possession and Messi almost punished the Bosnians with a run across the edge of the box and a clever ball to Aguero who fired low and hard, but straight at Begovic.
Then, with 65 minutes played, it all happened in the blink of an eye. Picking the ball up 40 yards from goal Messi strode forwards before playing a wall pass off Higuain. He then accelerated towards goal, skipped past two challenges and fired a low shot in off the left hand post to put Argentina two goals ahead.
The goal oiled Argentina’s sense of purpose and their general play took on a glossier sheen. Still they gave the ball away in a manner little befitting potential tournament winners but Aguero, Higuain and Messi all began to hint at their ability. On 82 minutes Messi broke following a Bosnian attack with Aguero and Higuain in tow the Argentines covered 60 yards in breathtaking speed, only for Spahic to execute a saving block from Aguero’s shot.
With six minutes left Bosnia and Herzegovina gave the game what it really needed, albeit far too late, when substitute Vedad Ibisevic ran onto a finely judged through ball and flicked the ball through Romero’s legs to reduce Argentina’s lead to just one. It gave Bosnia hope and simultaneously reminded Alejandro Sabella’s men that they had a job to do.
For the briefest time anything seemed possible and Messi might have got his second of the evening in added time but fired into the side-netting when well placed.
Argentina: Sergio Romero; Pablo Zabaleta, Hugo Campagnaro (Fernando Gago 46), Federico Fernandez Ezequiel Garay, Marcos Rojo; Maxi Rodriguez (Gonzalo Higuain 46), Javier Mascherano, Angel Di Maria; Lionel Messi; Sergio Aguero (Lucas Biglia 87).
Subs not used: Agustin Orion (gk), Mariano Andujar (gk), Augusto Fernandez, Martin Demichelis, Jose Basanta, Ricardo Alvarez, Ezequiel Lavezzi, Rodrigo Palacio, Enzo Perez.
Bookings: Rojo (25).
Bosnia & Herzegovina: Asmir Begovic; Mensur Mujdza (Vedad Ibisevic 69), Ermin Bicakcic, Emir Spahic, Sead Kolasinac; Miralem Pjanic, Muhamed Besic; Izet Hajrovic (Edin Visca 71), Zvjezdan Misimovic, Senad Lulic; Edin Dzeko.
Subs not used: Jasmin Fejzic (gk), Asmir Avdukic (gk), Senijad Ibricic, Anel Hadzic, Haris Medunjanin, Sejad Salihovic, Toni Sunjic, Tino Susic, Ognjen Vranjes, Avdija Vrsajevic.
Bookings: Spahic (63).
Referee: Joel Aguilar (El Salvador).
Extratime Man of the March: Emir Spahic (Bosnia & Herz).
Simon O'Gorman began reporting for Extratime in 2010. He remembers Milltown and Flower Lodge and, back in the mists of time, saw Diego Maradona play at Lansdowne Road. He now lives in Co Kildare and reports on Shamrock Rovers among others. Simon can be contacted at email@example.com