Argentina may have edged past a poor Mexico team to win a crucial Group C meeting in Doha but both the Mexico win and the shock loss to Saudi Arabia have proven this Argentina side lack the quality to be considered genuine World Cup contenders.
Coach Lionel Scaloni made five changes from the team that surrendered a 1-0 half-time lead to lose their opening game to Hervé Renard’s Saudi side. In truth, however, despite the positive result, little changed for Argentina against Mexico in their overall performance which, after a positive first half against Saudi Arabia, arguably worsened in game two.
Two moments of individual brilliance masked what was another uninspired, slow and disjointed Argentina collective display. Aside from Enzo Fernandez, the exciting 21-year-old Benfica midfielder who curled home a stunning second goal, all of Scaloni’s key creative players are well into their thirties or simply don’t have the level to compete with the best teams in Qatar.
Ángel Di María, now 34, has noticeably slowed in the last 18 months, Papu Gómez, also 34, endured a woeful display against Saudi Arabia and is long past his Atalanta best while Lionel Messi, now 35, despite a much improved season in Paris, lacks the turn of pace that made him unstoppable for so long. Brighton’s Alexis Mac Allister and Rodrigo De Paul of Atlético Madrid, both starters against Mexico, are not the calibre of player to carry a team to a World Cup. Meanwhile, Scaloni’s full-back options are all typically hard-working and physical but remain just as one-dimensional as his midfield.
Lautaro Martínez and Julián Álvarez are talented finishers up front but offer little threat without service, which has been badly lacking so far. Fernandez may be the answer longer term but charging the inexperienced 21-year-old with the responsibility of leading his nation to a World Cup is hardly a wise, or realistic, move.
Argentina celebrated their win euphorically, but, lacking creativity, intensity and consistent quality, the performance against Mexico was arguably a step down from defeat to Saudi Arabia and only served to prove that this squad simply isn’t talented enough to compete with France, Spain, Brazil or England.