Why Cristian Pavon is the key to Argentina's World Cup success
Rarely does Lionel Messi hit a hat-trick and another player receives all the plaudits. On Tuesday night, Argentina ran out 4-0 winners over Haiti in a World Cup warm-up game. Cristian Pavon's 31-minute cameo was match-defining. Based on their performance against the Caribbean minnows, it’s clear that Messi regards Pavon as an integral component for La Albiceleste making an impact in Russia.
Jorge Sampaoli has since praised the duo. The Argentina coach stated, 'Cristian is a player who has very special characteristics for communicating with Messi.' Many were taken aback when Pavon was selected ahead of Mauro Icardi in the Argentine World Cup squad. To put it into perspective, the Inter Milan striker scored 29 times in 34 Serie A appearances this season. Juventus' Gonzalo Higuain, also heading to Russia, struck 13 fewer.
Pavon’s display against Haiti, however, proves his worth to Argentina beyond goals.
At only 22, Pavon is no doubt the biggest name currently featuring in South American domestic football. The Boca Juniors winger directly contributed to 18 goals in 32 appearances this campaign. He also averaged 2.5 dribbles per game. In two seasons the youngster has fired the Xeneizes to successive Argentine Primera Division titles, finding the net every 122 minutes.
Such form has attracted attention from Europe. Pavon was linked to Arsenal in January. The two Spanish giants, Barcelona and Real Madrid, have both expressed interest more recently. Paris Saint-Germain is the latest superpower to show keenness.
The truth is, with Messi as the central focus, Argentina continually fail on the international stage. Despite possessing one of the all-time greats, they haven't lifted either the World Cup, Copa America or Confederations Cup.
Of course, one man can't win team trophies alone. Considering the depth of Argentina's talent pool, though, something seems off. Messi has played alongside talents such as Angel Di Maria, Gonzalo Higuain, Sergio Aguero, Paulo Dybala and Ezequiel Lavezzi, but he's never won a major final in four attempts.
Pavon's injection into La Albiceleste is a change from recent years. An exciting prospect from the country's domestic league chosen instead of a European-based superstar.
With little expectation on him, Pavon wears the Argentine shirt without fear. Europe's vicious media are yet to take aim. He currently resembles Messi when he first debuted in summer 2005.
Pavon has represented his nation at every level. Although he's inexperienced with the senior side, making five appearances, his youthful exuberance proved too much for Sampaoli to ignore. The Boca Juniors forward is more than a wildcard, he’s a secret weapon that ties Argentina’s disjointed attack.
The youngster’s ability to seamlessly link up play and create space will ensure Messi finds top gear in Russia. If that wasn't enough, Pavon possesses an unrivalled versatility, allowing him to perform on either flank as well as in the number ten role.
In nine days’ time, Argentina's ability to lift the World Cup will be judged while taking on Iceland. Contrary to popular belief, Lionel Messi doesn't hold the key to success. Cristian Pavon has taken possession. Remember the name.