Angel Di Maria came into the Copa America aiming for two major milestones but a drab performance in the first half of a 2-0 defeat to Colombia has left both of those hanging by a thread.
Argentina are bidding to win a first major international trophy in 26 years but Saturday’s defeat suggested there is little hope of ending that hoodoo this year.
Di Maria, meanwhile produced a performance of such anonymity — he touched the ball just 15 times, playing 10 passes — that coach Lionel Scaloni hauled him off at half-time.
The Paris Saint-Germain forward had been hoping to celebrate reaching 100 international caps during the Copa but the day after that damaging loss, he was sent to train with the substitutes while his replacement Rodrigo de Paul stayed with the first team.
Di Maria won his 98th cap against Colombia, but now the next two seem anything but a foregone conclusion.
“An Angel without wings,” wrote the Argentine sports newspaper Ole the night of Argentina’s defeat.
“If Lionel Messi’s life with the national team is marked by failures, Angel Di Maria’s seems to have been an ordeal,” said the Ole article.
Like Messi, Di Maria was left out of a succession of Argentina friendlies following the team’s World Cup exit at the last 16 stage in Russia.
And his return, alongside Barcelona’s Messi and Sergio Aguero of Manchester City, was seen as a boost for a team otherwise in transition.
The difference between Argentina’s first and second half performances on Saturday was flagrant, and not lost on Scaloni either.
“The second half was worthy of Argentina,” said Scaloni after the match.
– ‘Anonymous’ –
As an attacking force in the first period, they were barely recognizable.
And Clarin newspaper was scathing in its assessment of Di Maria’s contribution, saying “he didn’t attack,” had “produced nothing” and “was anonymous.”
The only saving grace perhaps for Di Maria was that both Colombia’s goals were scored when he was off the pitch.
Yet that can be of little consolation for a forward given that most of Argentina’s chances came in the second half and both sides agreed afterwards that Colombia scored their goals during their opponents’ best spell of the game.
It will surely have brought back bad memories from the scene of Di Maria’s greatest professional disappointment to date.
The winger arrived in Brazil for the 2014 World Cup on the back of his best club season yet that culminated in a Champions League victory with Real Madrid.
He had been in fine form for Argentina, scoring the winning goal to beat Switzerland in the last 16.
But he was injured during the quarter-final, in which he had helped set up Gonzalo Higuain’s decisive goal to beat Belgium, and would miss the rest of the tournament as Argentina suffered the agony of losing to Germany in the final.
“This final still haunts me,” he recently told La Nacion newspaper.
There were rumors that Real had vetoed his participation in the final for fear he would aggravate his thigh injury and scupper the Spanish giants’ plans to sell him — he would join Manchester United that summer — in order to replace him with Colombia’s James Rodriguez, one of Argentina’s chief tormentors on Saturday.
“That match that I didn’t play in is the one that has hurt me the most in my career,” said Di Maria.
At 31 and after his Colombian no-show on Saturday, he may well never get the opportunity for Brazilian redemption.