Finally, Lionel Messi broke through with Argentina on the international scene. But one prize still remains unclaimed.
More than a decade of international angst was extinguished with victory over Brazil in the 2021 Copa América final. For the first time with his country’s first team, Messi lifted a major trophy and a huge weight on his shoulders.
Five Copa Ámerica tournaments and four World Cups had produced little grief for Argentina fans watching Messi. But now, with an international trophy added to his already massive record at club level, Messi is in search of the ultimate trophy. If he is to be believed, this will be his last attempt to win it, and he just might have the team around him to do it.
With fellow South American giant Brazil, La Albiceleste went unbeaten in 17 World Cup qualifying matches, conceding just eight goals. Overall, Argentina are unbeaten in 35 games, two short of Italy’s world record (2018-2021). Finally, after years of instability, feuds and disjointed squads, a stable team has formed around the great centerpiece of Messi, and they are heading to Qatar as one of the favourites.
Group C schedule (all times Eastern)
– Saudi Arabia, November 22, 5 a.m.
– Mexico, Nov. 26, 2 p.m.
– Poland, Nov. 30, 2 p.m.
Lionel Scalonihired in November 2018
Players to watch
Lionel Messi, striker
Even at his advanced age, the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner is still the ultimate game-breaker. Messi is magic with the ball at his feet. From skating past defenders with ease to placing precise line-breaking passes, he terrorizes opposing defenses with his otherworldly game knowledge and skills.
When he is at his best, as he has been for much of the Copa América and as he has seemed to be with PSG this season, there is no tactical counter for Messi. You can only sit back and hope he doesn’t add to his Argentina record of 90 national team goals.
Emi Martínez, goalkeeper
The Aston Villa keeper has taken his game to another level in the Copa América race. Martínez saved three shots on goal in Argentina’s thrilling semi-final victory over Colombia, then made four key saves to keep a clean sheet in the final against Brazil. He’s also shown he’s not shy about talking trash, and he’s leading an Argentina defense a bit ahead. He picked up a head injury less than a month before Argentina’s opener but is expected to be recovered to feature in Qatar.
Lautaro Martinez, striker
Argentina’s leading man continues to improve. Martínez scored a career-high 21 goals for Inter in Serie A last season as his side’s main striker and is once again among the league leaders. He will be the spearhead of the Argentine attack in this World Cup.
Martínez is a very good goalscorer who has achieved solid numbers during his recent work with the national team (seven goals and three assists in 14 qualifiers). The goals will be there for him to score with Argentina really clicking going forward.
Candidate in small groups
Cristian Romero, central defender
The Tottenham man adds even more bite to the Argentina defence. Known for his aggressive runs off the back line (and the even more aggressive tackling that follows), his early success after a spell last year in the Premier League is an indicator that he can shine at any level.
The 24-year-old got his first run with the national team at the Copa América, where he rotated with Real Betis centre-back Germán Pezzella. After his performance in that tournament (and a great season at Spurs), Romero started nearly every World Cup qualifier he was available for. Although he has struggled with injuries heading into Qatar, he should fit in well to anchor the Argentina defense alongside Nicolás Otamendi.
world cup history
– 18th appearance
– Last appearance: 2018
– Best result: Champion in 1978 and 1986
Outlook and expectations
There are few moments in sports where perceived fate unfolds as expected. More often than not, the underdog falters, the hero fades, the end of the storybook ignites. But if there is a team of destiny in Qatar, it is this one.
Messi hastily retired from the Argentina national team in 2016 after a loss to Chile in the Copa América Centenario final. He then returned, obviously with more to prove. Messi has long struggled with the pressure that comes with Diego Maradona’s succession as Argentine football’s global superstar. The latter led his country to victory at the 1986 World Cup. The former had no international trophies to his credit, until the 2021 triumph.
For some, Messi has already cemented his legacy as the greatest football player of all time. For others, he has a World Cup trophy-sized hole in his resume. If there’s one Argentinian team during Messi’s tenure that could win a title, it might be this one.
Alongside Juventus’ Lautaro Martínez and Ángel Di María, few teams boast a more powerful front three. The midfielder is very attacking but Rodrigo De Paul should fit in well alongside Leandro Paredes. And in goal, Emi Martínez was (especially) excellent in an Argentinian jersey.
Group C is also there for the taking. Argentina should have few problems with Saudi Arabia, and while Poland and Mexico both have interesting pieces – Messi and Robert Lewandowski sharing a World Cup stage should be special – neither should really threaten this team for the top of the group.
Perhaps more importantly, this team knows they are capable of winning at the highest level. The success of the Copa América has exorcised the demons that have lingered around a proud footballing nation for more than two decades. Fair or not, Messi has been criticized for each of Argentina’s failed World Cup campaigns with him on the pitch, even in 2014 when he won the tournament’s Golden Ball and led his side to the final. final. Now with a trophy in hand, he enters Qatar knowing that his legacy can only be enhanced with a title.
World Cup team
KEEPERS: Franco Armani (River Plate), Emi Martínez (Aston Villa), Gerónimo Rulli (Villarreal)
DEFENDERS: Marcos Acuña (Sevilla), Juan Foyth (Villarreal), Lisandro Martínez (Manchester United), Nahuel Molina (Atlético Madrid), Gonzalo Montiel (Sevilla), Nicolás Otamendi (Benfica), Germán Pezzella (Real Betis), Cristian Romero (Tottenham) , Nicolas Tagliafico (Lyon)
MIDFIELDERS: Rodrigo De Paul (Atlético Madrid), Enzo Fernández (Benfica), Alejandro Gómez (Sevilla), Alexis Mac Allister (Brighton), Exequiel Palacios (Bayer Leverkusen), Leandro Paredes (Juventus), Guido Rodriguez (Real Betis)
ATTACKERS: Julián Álvarez (Manchester City), Joaquín Correa (Inter Milan), Paulo Dybala (Roma), Ángel Di María (Juventus), Nicolás González (Fiorentina), Lautaro Martínez (Inter Milan), Lionel Messi (Paris Saint-Germain)
More World Cup coverage: