The Argentine team arrives for the first time in a long time at a World Cup in peace. Excited, but calm. It’s the greatest strength of the group and that is highlighted over and over again by the players, beyond the fact that the team works on the field at a collective level, with a well-oiled and solid vertical game. The current cycle began towards the end of 2018, after the disastrous period of Jorge Sampaoli as manager that ended with elimination in the round of 16 and some other scandals
Lionel Scaloni, who was part of that body of work, assumed a job that was going to be brief, facing the year-end commitments and the 2019 Copa América. Argentina were irregular and, at times, confused, but the Argentina Association of Football (AFA) ratified the manager to lead the team to Qatar 2022. Criticism grew amid his decisions for leaving out past heroes, who complained for no longer being a part of the team.
However, in 2021, the national team, some players especially including Lionel Messi, managed to remove a stigma of almost 30 years by winning a big title. Since celebrating in the mythical Maracana by winning the final against Brazil, a historic rival, everything has been going more smoothly. In June Argentina won the Finalissima against Italy 3-0 at Wembley, leading to another cup.
Since 2019 they are undefeated in 35 matches, two behind Roberto Mancini’s Italy record (2018- 2021). The generational change worked and managed to combine figures of experience, such as Messi, the captain, with the new faces that enjoy the game and the union. Argentina intends not only to realize their dream but also (and above all) La Pulga’s. Many of them believe that football owes Messi a World Cup.
Lionel Scaloni is an outlier. Even though he had been working on the coaching staff of the national team before, he had no experience as a team leader anywhere. In fact, that was the reason why he drew so much criticism in his early days. However, he surrounded himself with figures from previous eras such as Pablo Aimar, Roberto Ayala and Walter Samuel and created this team. The consecration of the Copa América made him immune. The public loves him. He helped the public identify with the team and also made Messi smile. The fans call their team ‘La Scaloneta’, which is a kind of bus-type vehicle in which everyone rides towards the hope of winning Qatar 2022.
Lionel Messi is the captain and emblem of the team, who at 35-years-old and in his fifth World Cup will finally try to fulfil that longing that keeps him awake at night: lifting the World Cup. Without the explosion of other years, but with the teachings of the passage of time, Leo found the right place for him in the Argentine team, in which he is comfortable and happy. The Copa América stripped him of the weight of history and he will arrive at Qatar 2022 better than ever.
For many years, Argentina did not find that player from the back of the pitch who would give them confidence when it came to defending and facing the most fearsome strikers in the world. Until 22-years-old Tottenham defender Cristian Romero, ‘El Cuti’, arrived. He was one of the last to join Scaloni’s team, just two weeks before the Copa America in June and July 2021. With him on the pitch, the team has not lost a match.
Probable line-up, 4-3-3: Emiliano Martinez; Nahuel Molina, Cristian Romero, Nicolás Otamendi, Marcos Acuña; Rodrigo De Paul, Leandro Paredes, Giovanni Lo Celso; Lionel Messi, Lautaro Martinez, Angel Di Maria.