It’s not often that a West Ham defender can boast they shut down Lionel Messi, but Fabian Balbuena can add that to his resume after a 1-1 international draw.
West Ham can boast a bevy of squad players out on international duty with their stars vying for further international glory in the World’s best tournaments. For Fabian Balbuena, this means a return to his native Paraguay for crucial matches in the qualification for the World Cup.
Starting at centre-back in a back four for Paraguay, Balbuena and fellow Premier League player Miguel Almiron were the only two well-known players in this team other than phoney Irons link Angel Romero who scored a penalty to open the scoring.
The match ended in a 1-1 draw after Nicolas Gonzalez levelled the score in the 41st minute. As probably expected, the game script heavily favoured the stronger and more elite Argentina team (even without Manuel Lanzini), with the majority of stats favouring Lionel Messi’s side.
Balbuena was likely prepared for this as much of West Ham’s previous season saw him both playing in a flat-back four and ceding possession to much better and attacking-minded teams, more so when Manuel Pellegrini was still in charge.
Argentina held a whopping 69% possession, had 15 shots with five on target, and more than doubled Paraguay’s total passes in the match. Still, Balbuena’s squad stayed strong and repelled an attack that boasts Laturo Martinez, Lucas Ocampos, Lionel Messi, and Angel Di Maria.
The point settles Paraguay into fifth place in their World Cup qualifying division, just one point ahead of Chile and Columbia and chasing Brazil, Argentina, Ecuador, and Uruguay for the top spots.
With one match remaining in this international break and in 2020 for Paraguay, they must get a result against Bolivia on November 17th to keep their World Cup fire stoked. Balbuena’s Premier League experience has undoubtedly come in key for his team and hopefully, he can return to West Ham even stronger than when he left.