Argentina's Lionel Messi (C) during their clash with Uruguay at La Bombonera stadium in Buenos Aires, Argentina, November 16, 2023. /CFP
What a bitter pill to swallow for the intimidating Argentina. It has been quite a while since they last experienced this sinking feeling. Since their shocking defeat at the hands of Saudi Arabia in the 2022 World Cup back in November, Lionel Messi and his compatriots had managed to fly high.
However, their 14-match unbeaten streak came to a sudden halt on Thursday night when they were left stunned by Uruguay, succumbing to a 2-0 defeat at La Bombonera. The goals from Maxi Araujo and Darwin Nunez proved to be the downfall of the Albiceleste, who had won all four of their previous outings of the 2026 World Cup qualifying campaign.
To Argentina's utter astonishment, Uruguay fiercely asserted themselves right from the start against the reigning World Cup champions. Nunez came close to breaking the deadlock earlier on, as his deflected shot caused a moment of panic for defender Nicolas Otamendi.
Uruguay's Darwin Nunez celebrates scoring his side's second goal against Argentina at La Bombonera stadium in Buenos Aires, Argentina, November 16, 2023. /CFP
Lionel Scaloni, the deserved recipient of the Best FIFA Men's Coach of the Year award, appeared visibly anxious as his midfielders struggled to contain Uruguay's wide players. Alas, his players failed to respond to his pleas, and their failure to do so resulted in their punishment just before halftime. Matias Vina capitalized on a defensive lapse by Nahuel Molina, snatching the ball with ease and delivering a precise low cross into the penalty area. Araujo emphatically buried the ball into the back of the net, leaving Argentina in a precarious position.
Messi has been deprived of competitive action since the end of the 2023 MLS season in late October, therefore one can understand his lack of sharpness. Nonetheless, Argentina came agonizingly close to equalizing the scoreline through a free kick from Messi himself, as well as a close-range effort from Otamendi.
Following the interval, Uruguay continued to apply pressure on Argentina, who relied once again on the astounding gift of Messi. It was the eight-time Ballon d'Or winner who created the best chance for the hosts, rattling the crossbar with a powerful free kick around the hour mark. But Uruguay ultimately sealed their victory with a decisive blow in the dying moments of the game as Nunez applied a smart finish.
Argentina's Lionel Messi reacts after their loss to Uruguay at La Bombonera stadium in Buenos Aires, Argentina, November 16, 2023. /CFP
For all the brouhaha, when the dust settled, the result may hold little consequence. Argentina still sit atop the standings with 12 points from five matches, while Uruguay's triumph propels them to second place with 10 points.
However, the upcoming clash against South American behemoth Brazil looms large for Argentina. This unexpected loss has exposed their vulnerability, and unless Messi and Co can recapture their finest form, a second consecutive defeat may well be on the horizon.