Football

Where Argentina must improve

1 Show Messi 
more love

Considering he is the greatest of his generation and a leading contender for best of all time, Messi is a mild-mannered global conqueror. He's not psychologically brittle. Petty defenders hack away at him with parangs whenever he's in possession, but he fine-tuned his mental fortitude years ago.

He just wants to feel wanted. More than anything else, he covets freedom and trust and the chance to reward the faith shown in him by others.

Against Holland, Messi didn't get enough support. Even a lead vocalist needs back-up singers sometimes.

Coach Alejandro Sabella set Argentina up not to lose and succeeded. But he neutered Messi. The balance of play should be slanted towards his No. 10, who only needs a moment to make history and Germany won't be held for 120 minutes.

2 Don't play 
for penalties

Gary Lineker famously said: "Football is a simple game - you play for 120 minutes and then the Germans win on penalties."

Shootouts are not a lottery when the Germans are involved. Pressure is channeled into something positive or it is left on the bench. Germany faced down a host nation in the volatile, football-devoted city of Belo Horizonte and slaughtered the Selecao.

Most teams would've recoiled at the Brazilian national anthem, a terrifying call to arms from 60,000 eye-bulging, vein-popping screaming patriots.

The Germans brushed the impassioned chanting aside like flecks of dandruff on the shoulder. Are five kicks from 12 yards going to faze them? Sabella should listen to Lineker. There's no point planning for a lottery when Germany already hold the winning ticket.

3 Release Mascherano

If penalties are out, Sabella has to win in regulation time. He should release Javier Mascherano to form closer ties with Messi. Mascherano is the reason his countrymen limped into the final.

He has been delivering fiery team talks in the knockout stages that stress a date with destiny.

His infectious optimism will be essential against the Germans. His mopping duties should occupy his time at the Maracana, but on those rare occasions when Argentina press, he must lead the charge to release Messi.

With Angel di Maria and Sergio Aguero struggling, Mascherano is the only link man left.

- NEIL HUMPHREYS

World Cup