Sabella recalled at halftime, however, that despite his 5-3-2 convictions, he had given Argentina their wings in an early qualifier away to Colombia with a more attacking formation that helped his side win the South American group.
"The coach changed the system in the second half, it’s more than just a couple of tweaks, 4-3-3 is the way we play, the one we’re used to,” said midfielder Javier Mascherano.
“I don’t think we played badly in the first half but with one player less up front and one more at the bank we had difficulty creating danger,” he told reporters.
Just as against Colombia in Barranquilla in late 2011 when Sabella took off a holding midfielder at halftime to put Sergio Aguero up front with Messi and Gonzalo Higuain, so on Sunday off came extra defender Hugo Campagnaro.
With Fernando Gago coming on for Maxi Rodriguez as the playmaker and Higuain boosting the attack, Argentina made sure of the points with Messi’s brilliant 65th minute goal in a 2-1 victory.
The players all prefer the three-pronged attack with left winger Angel Di Maria making up the Fantastic Quartet, as the Argentine media call them, despite Sabella’s fears of giving rival teams more space in Argentina’s half.
The tournament has shown in its first few days that attacking football is being rewarded with goals and Messi’s Argentina do not want to go against that grain with a third world title in their sights.
Iran can expect Argentina to start their second Group F game in Belo Horizonte the way they came on in the second half at the Maracana looking to set Messi up for more goals.
“The 4-3-3 was born in Barranquilla and gave us three years of enjoyment, let’s hope that against Iran we rediscover our game and can play better than today (Sunday),” said goalkeeper Sergio Romero, whose first half saves were reassuring after a season of bench-warming at AS Monaco.
Sabella had perhaps forgotten how good his Argentina side were before injuries brought him selection headaches in the final qualifiers and friendlies last year.
The last time he had lined up the side that played the second half on Sunday had been when Argentina crushed Uruguay 3-0 in Cordoba in an October 2012 qualifier.
“In the second half we had more of the ball, we created more chances, in the first we let ourselves get pushed back, with Kun (Aguero) and me cut off,” Messi said.
“With another man in attack, that changed. That’s how we have to carry on, like the second half, we feel more comfortable that way.
“I think there was also the uncertainty of the opening match, the nerves… That may have made the coach choose the other system, playing with five at the back,” Messi admitted.
“(The other way) we have more chances to pass (the ball), the four of us go out all guns blazing and make rival defences have doubts.”
Argentina supporters and fans of good attacking football will hope Sabella’s own doubts have been dispelled.