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Angel Di Maria is Argentina's most important player

Lionel Messi missed out on Argentina's Copa America opener. It didn't matter. Angel Di Maria delivered.

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Ahead of the 2014 World Cup final, Angel Di Maria picked up an injury that rendered him unable to start against Germany. Just 29 minutes into the 2015 Copa America final against Chile, Di Maria got hurt again and had to be substituted. Argentina fell in both of those finals, on both occasions failing to score in 120 minutes of play. Notably, Lionel Messi played the entirety of both matches.

Messi is unquestionably both a top five player currently on earth and a top five player of all time, and he is the engine that makes Barcelona run. For the Albiceleste, he is a great player, but not their most important. That distinction falls to Di Maria, Argentina's best player in their 2-1 win over Chile in their Copa America opener on Monday -- a game in which Messi didn't play.

International and club soccer are different, mostly because of the training time involved. Club teams get consecutive months together, giving coaches a chance to develop a well-defined style, and if they choose, a very intricate one. International managers are not afforded the same courtesy, meaning that national teams are almost always less tactically sophisticated, less fluid and capable of fewer pretty passing moves than their top club counterparts.

And it's for this reason that Di Maria -- an inarguably inferior player to Messi -- is Argentina's most important fixture even if he could never be the same thing for Barcelona. At the international level, there's no time to build a team around Messi's incredible footballing brain. It can be only a very important accent to a much simpler overall concept than what Barca puts on the pitch. A national side needs someone athletic, direct, hard-working and able to contribute to all phases of play, regardless of the tactical system or available teammates. Di Maria fits the bill perfectly.

Besides winning the ball, starting counter-attacks and covering an incredible amount of distance, Di Maria scored a goal and set up another. Here he is finishing off the opener off a pass from Ever Banega.

And here he is returning the favor, finding Banega for Argentina's second.

These goals were both classic Di Maria. They didn't feature any passing triangles or gorgeous 50-touch team combinations. They featured getting the ball, moving toward goal as quickly as possible then kicking the ball into the damn goal.

At the international level, great teams need this. It's the most effective way to score. And it's why Di Maria means more to the Albiceleste than their best player does.