Messi rediscovers his touch

After a rollercoaster ride under Diego Maradona followed by Sergio Batista's failed attempts to imitate Barcelona, Argentina are once again beginning to look a threat to the world's top sides.

This time last year, the blue-and-white striped shirt appeared to act as a millstone around Lionel Messi's neck, transforming him into a forlorn figure shorn of his Barcelona exuberance.

Since then, coach Alejandro Sabella has found a formation which, although still vulnerable at the back, is capable of giving Messi the ball in his favourite position around 25 metres from goal, allowing him cause mayhem among opposing defences.  Argentina have won their last five games, continuing the run with their 3-1 win away to Germany on Wednesday, and Messi has scored nine times in those matches, including two hat-tricks.

Despite missing a penalty, Messi led the Argentine attack, got on the scoresheet in the second half and helped the South Americans create a hatful of chances, albeit against a German side down to 10 men since the 31st minute.

“The good thing is that we have managed to win a number of games in a row,” Messi told Argentine media. “We've been inconsistent now for several years, but now we seem to have found our way.”

Argentina's instability set in after the 2006 World Cup when Jose Pekerman decided not to continue following the quarterfinal penalty shootout defeat to Germany.

He was replaced by the Alfio Basile, an old romantic who, with his slicked-back hair and gravel voice, might have stepped out of a 1950s tango club.

Basile based his side around the mercurial Juan Roman Riquelme but, increasingly seen as old-fashioned and out of touch by his players, quit in 2008 following a string of World Cup qualifying draws.

That opened the door for Maradona, who was swept in on a wave of popular demand.
His presence turned the side into something of a circus, providing huge entertainment value, but he often appeared lost as a coach and a series of defeats left them in danger of missing out on the 2010 World Cup.

Eventually, they qualified but were thrashed 4-0 by Germany in the quarterfinals. Maradona quit in a row with the federation over his coaching staff.

Amid all of this, Messi struggled to reproduce his club form, leading to some vitriolic criticism which even questioned his patriotism.

Batista, Maradona's replacement, never solved the riddle either, despite saying he wanted Argentina to play like Barcelona.

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