Bidding for their third title, Argentina and their iconic No10 will arrive at the upcoming FIFA World Cup as genuine contenders.
Lionel Scaloni’s side go into the world finals full of confidence after a long unbeaten run
Last year’s Copa America win ended a lengthy trophy drought
While Lionel Messi remains the figurehead, Argentina have evolved as a team
Argentina will head to the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ with expectations at their highest in years.
The 2021 Copa America win, secured on Brazilian soil at the Estadio Maracana, fired the dreams of a country that has but one objective on its mind: lifting a third World Cup Trophy. With Lionel Messi still leading the way in what will be his fifth and, quite possibly, last world finals appearance, there are many reasons why La Albiceleste are contenders for the most prized piece of silverware in the game.
Qualification turned out to be the most straightforward of tasks for Lionel Scaloni’s side, who continue to surprise. In winning 11 matches and drawing six, they collected 39 points to finish second only to Brazil and 11 points clear of third. Impressive as those statistics are, it was the manner in which those points were won and the continental title claimed last year that has the Argentinians dreaming once more of World Cup glory.
Following the defeat to France at Russia 2018 and the departure of a breed that had come so close to making football history at Brazil 2014, the outlook looked gloomy for La Albiceleste. Not only were there doubts about the potential of the new generation of players that came into replace them, but several well-known coaches turned down the opportunity to take on such a high-pressure job.
Claudio Tapia, the president of the Argentinian Football Association (AFA), eventually put his faith in the untested Lionel Scaloni, who had joined the coaching staff of previous incumbent Jorge Sampaoli in 2018. It has turned out to be an inspired choice. Four years on, Scaloni will take his team to Qatar with spirits high having put the disappointments of recent years behind them and overcome a psychological barrier in the process.
With a settled line-up, the eternal leadership of Messi, a new breed that can do justice to the jersey, and Scaloni’s tactical acumen, Argentina have their sights set on World Cup number three
Scaloni's approach and tactics
Scaloni’s first ever tenure as a head coach is proving to be an unforgettable one. When a clutch of big names turned the job down, he stepped up as a caretaker after guiding the U-20s to victory at L’Alcudia International Football Tournament in 2018.
Scaloni brought about the generational change that La Albiceleste needed and earned the confidence of players and coaching staff alike. Given a short-term contract that ran until the 2019 Copa America, he impressed his employers by guiding Argentina to the semi-finals, where they were knocked out by eventual champions Brazil. That campaign provided the foundation for what came next.
Confirmed in the post ahead of the qualifiers for Qatar 2022 and the 2020 Copa America, which was postponed to the following year on account of the pandemic, Scaloni put together a solid unit featuring a host of new faces committed to the national cause and to helping their idol Messi become a world champion.
In came Emiliano Martinez between the posts, while Cristian Romero was given the chance to cement his position in the centre of defence and Leandro Paredes was converted into a reliable central midfielder. Up front, Lautaro Martinez has shown his skills as a finisher and Angel Di Maria has been restored to the fold as a proven matchwinner. All have turned out to be inspired choices.
Keeping their feet firmly on the ground, Argentina took the Copa America from Brazil and won the Finalissima against European champions Italy, with their unfancied coach proving to be the solution to their long trophy drought. His objective now will be to use the same recipe to secure the World Cup.
Key player: Lionel Messi
Qatar 2022 will be the Albiceleste star’s fifth world finals. At the age of 35, he remains as influential as ever. The No10 has adapted his game to the inevitable impact of the passage of time and will be Argentina’s ace card on their Qatari adventure.
Having finally won a trophy for his country, he now goes in search of the one piece of silverware missing from his long list of honours, with Scaloni’s new intake determined to help him on that quest.
Though not the athlete he was in his younger years and though no longer able to dominate games from start to finish, Messi still has decisive contributions to make in creating and finishing moves.
There is nothing left to say about the wizardry of his left foot, his sheer talent, his exquisite set-piece skills, his vision and reading of the game or his goalscoring ability, devilish dribbling and gift for exploiting any shortcomings the opposition may have. Messi has spent nearly two decades at the pinnacle of world football and will travel to Qatar intent on filling the one gap on his CV.
One to watch: Julian Alvarez
Alvarez could have a decisive role to play for his country at Qatar 2022. After bursting on to the scene at River Plate and helping them to a league title with his goals, he earned a move to Pep Guardiola’s mighty Manchester City, where he has already made an impression, maintaining his steep upward career trajectory.
“We are delighted with Julian,” said Guardiola. “Everyone talks about Erling [Haaland] and we’re delighted with him, but Julian is an outstanding player. He’s very humble, always positive, and he gives his all in training. I like players like that. He’s always close to the ball and has an instinct for being in the right place at the right time. He shows what he can do whenever he plays.”
Aside from being a proven goalscorer, Alvarez is also adept at finding space and probing opposition weaknesses with his tireless running and pressing.
Another candidate for Argentina’s player to watch was Benfica midfielder Enzo Fernandez, who has just started out on his international career and could well make an impact in Scaloni’s side. However, the lack of a dependable second forward to accompany or deputise for undisputed first-choice Lautaro Martinez means all eyes should really be on Alvarez in the run-up to Qatar 2022.
Argentina's World Cup history
Argentina head to Qatar determined to atone for a somewhat chaotic campaign at Russia 2018. A painful defeat to Croatia in the group phase left them with a daunting last-16 tie against France, who edged a thrilling game 4-3 and went on to win the title. That frustrating defeat was one of several the South Americans have endured in recent years.
None were more agonising than the extra-time Final loss to Germany at Brazil 2014 or the penalty-shootout reverse inflicted by the same opponents in the quarter-finals at Germany 2006, a match the Argentinians looked to have won in normal time.
Argentina and Messi will keep on trying.
In what may well be his last world finals, La Pulga will attempt to emulate Diego Armando Maradona’s achievements at Mexico 1986, whose exploits against England in the last eight of that competition are remembered by every Argentinian. La Albiceleste went on to win their second World Cup that year, the first having come on home soil in 1978.