World Cup: Alexis Mac Allister was not expected to be part of Argentina’s squad, but now he is integral

IAN HERBERT: Alexis Mac Allister wasn’t expected to be part of Argentina’s World Cup squad but is now an integral part of their starting XI: the Brighton midfielder helped them ‘rediscover their memory of how to play’ and seemed in a rope with Lionel Messi

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The rich precedent of Argentine World Cup stars playing for British clubs dates back to Ossie Ardiles and Ricky Villa driving down White Hart Lane after ticker tape and Mario Kempes at the Estadio Monumental in Buenos Aires, in the summer of 1978. .

But the idea of ​​a Brighton and Hove Albion defensive midfielder being asked to crack Lionel Messi’s attacking code is really something else.

He was the wizard everyone had eyes and songs for on Saturday night, although Alexis Mac Allister, the man who Argentine newspaper La Nación reported helped the team ‘rediscover their memory of how to play’ after that rocky start , was Messi’s supply line. and running mate.

Alexis Mac Allister was brilliant for Argentina during their 2-1 win over Australia on Saturday

Alexis Mac Allister was brilliant for Argentina during their 2-1 win over Australia on Saturday

The two seemed on a string at times: Messi hovering, watching, sensing, where the pockets of space would be and Mac Allister generally, though not exclusively, on the inside left channel, trying to capitalize on the space opened up by Australia’s lockdown. mate herding him. There was a moment in the first half when you had to push a bit. Messi took a look to the other side. Mac Allister did the job.

It’s fascinating when Messi scores from the angle he did, yet it was the man asked to work the hard yardage at the back of the defense, at the Amex Arena, who saw the picture. Mac Allister struck the vertical ball from 15 yards with his right instep through a gap channel on the right side of the penalty area and Nicolás Otamendi killed it, allowing Messi to take it and score a goal that punctured an air of crescent concern.

Easy to overlook when you’re subservient to a genius. There were very few ’20’ shirts among the thousands who flocked to the metro station, demanding ‘Vamos Argentina’ on Sunday night.

Mac Allister was not even expected to be a part of this adventure. If FIFA hadn’t increased the maximum team size for this World Cup from 23 to 26, it probably wouldn’t have made it. But when he did, an injury to Villarreal’s Giovanni Lo Celso opened up more opportunities for Mac Allister, of Irish descent, to seize.

La Nación wrote about his ‘touch, pause and panorama’ after he regained more possession than any Argentine against Poland. That a member of the seventh best team in the Premier League is so fundamental in the creative engine is not surprising in this Argentine team.

Otamendi, the defender who assisted on that first goal, always looked like an accident waiting to happen for Manchester City, and that was when he was 30, not a 34-year-old ending his career at Benfica. Marcos Acuña and Papu Gómez are at Sevilla, third bottom of LaLiga.

The same applies to Aziz Behich, Dundee United’s 31-year-old Australian left-back, who tore through the entire Argentinian defense and almost equalized towards the end. That is the beautiful aesthetic of the World Cup. For Argentine day laborers, a support base sent by the gods certainly helps.

Mac Allister, 23, is certainly not in that group. As the second half began and Argentina looked to build stronger foundations, it was he who stole the ball from Jackson Irvine and passed it for another deflected shot from Messi. He regularly handed over possession and developed the game, constantly watching Messi as he weighed his options.

His father, a left-back who never made it out of Argentine club soccer, came close to playing for the United States in 1994 but was not selected, despite even appearing on the official sticker album that summer. “He didn’t make it, so he wants me to do everything he can,” Mac Allister said. Once again, on Saturday night, he made good on his promise to do so.

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