The Nations of the 21st World Cup – Argentina

Argentina National Team

Argentina

La Albiceleste

Every four years, national pride and footie artistry reach peak levels in a global dance of no small magnitude, the World Cup is here again. This summer, all eyes will be focused on Russia as the time to crown a champion draws ever near. With the sport’s best and brightest from 32 lucky nations on display, it’s time to take a look at what each squad brings to the table. We will dive deep beyond the usual team sheets, we’ll scratch beyond the player names, and get you ready to be the smartest on the couch/bar stool for Russia 2018.

Argentina

Qualifying Record (W-D-L) 7-7-4
Current FIFA World Ranking (May 2018) – 5th
World Cup 2014 Finish – Final (1-0 loss to Germany)
Russia 2018 Group D (Argentina, Iceland, Croatia, Nigeria)
Formation – 3-4-2-1 (variable)
Strengths – Messi, Messi, Messi
Weaknesses – Super hot/cold…over-dependence on Messi, and a porous defense in qualifying
Major Threats – Messi, Messi, and Messi…plus Aguero, Higuain, and Dybala

It hasn’t been an easy path since Argentina watched Germany celebrate right in front of their eyes four years ago. Qualifying was anything but a certainty, recent friendlies have been eye opening in a bad way, and it feels like this is Messi’s last chance at the greatest prize of them all.
Are you a fan of the La Albiceleste? Get your authentic Argentina Jersey from SoccerPro! Get all your adidas Argentina gear before the tournament starts!

Realistic Federation Goal for RUSSIA 2018:

Champions. Although the qualifying campaign was anything but impressive, the only possible outcome that will be acceptable to the AFA for the Messi-led Argentina would be dancing around with the Cup. The success at this World Cup will also echo towards the potential that Argentina will have once Messi finally walks away from the international level for good. Everyone also widely acknowledges that a World Cup would push Messi into serious claim as the GOAT and also give him the greatest anti-Ronaldo “trump” card he could ever hope to receive.


DEFENSE:

While Argentina actually had the second best defense in CONMEBOL qualifying. The more subtle thing is that the last year or so has been less than kind to the Argentine defense. True, these friendlies and World Cup warm-up matches are used to test out new formations, combinations, and see if there is any chance for Argentina without Messi on the pitch (spoiler: there isn’t), but it’s concerning that a 6-1 demolition at the hands of WC favorite Spain, and a 4-2 loss to group mates Nigeria didn’t exactly leave Argentina looking anything close to ready for the tournament. The worst part of this is that this Argentinian squad felt like the strongest in some time, and deserving of praise heading in to Russia. Mascherano was no longer needed as a central defender, the weakness that often was shown in the air was severely reduced, and the need for two central defensive midfielders wasn’t as vital as matches in the past.

The line-up for the Spain loss involved the majority of what is expected to be the starting defensive line-up once Argentina hits Russia. It’s unlikely the central pairing of Rojo and Otamendi will be tinkered with, but it is a bit of a mystery how the outside portion of Argentina’s defense will line up. Rojo and Otamendi are both extremely strong and incredible aerially, but Rojo didn’t get many Man U starts this season and there are a wealth of decent Argentine players hoping to shove their name into the central pairing. Federico Fazio was a key figure in Roma’s incredible season and Champions League run, and his surprising speed would be a great pairing with Otamendi’s on-field presence. Tagliafico is definitely the future center back for this squad, but he will most likely be used out wide instead of in the middle of defense at this World Cup. A long shot to even make the squad and definitely a long shot for the starting 11 was Cristian Ansaldi. An Inter Milan player who only played a handful of matches while on loan at Torino, it’s surprising that a more capable outside back wasn’t brought to Russia instead. If Ansaldi plays, it’s because management is truly at a loss for how to plug up the back, or he was brought because of his ability to play anywhere in defense. Still, a bit of a head-scratcher.

Something that Argentina will be hoping to achieve with their defense is goals. A poor run in front of goal has been an issue during and since qualifying, which is why so many attack minded wingers will get a chance on the flanks for Argentina. Tagliafico will probably get the nod at left back, but look for Marcos Acuna to slot in if more width is needed or if Argentina is pressing for a late goal. Eduardo Salvio is also capable of scoring from the right, but Gabriel Mercado will most likely get the nod at this level of competition (he started several key games at the last Copa America). Acuna and Salvio actually play as wingers for their clubs, so it will be a definite defensive liability to put them with the 11, but it wasn’t defense that has been Argentina’s biggest issue, so these selections make simple sense: relieve pressure off Messi and find the back of the net.

Perhaps the biggest news in international footy right now is that Sergio Romero will not be going to Russia with the Argentinian squad. A knee injury has taken out the easy first choice for Argentina at keeper. Willy Caballero will, most likely, be seen as the next man up. However, it wouldn’t surprise us to see some rotation in goal given Romero’s absence. Caballero has long proven himself worthy as a back-up at Premier League giants Manchester City and Chelsea, and he will be hoping that Argentina’s back-line can provide decent cover throughout the tournament.

MIDFIELD

Argentina’s midfield is a bit of a conundrum and is an unspoken Achilles heel for the outfit. The midfielders have to strike a balance between providing sufficient cover for the brilliance of Messi and a three-pronged attack, but also be able to occasionally add strength to the attack by means of players in the box and goals. As we’ve mentioned (and as we will continue to mention), Argentina’s issues since 2015 until now has been the struggle for anyone besides Messi to consistently aid in the scoring of goals.

The only constant for Argentina’s starting 11 will have to be Javier Mascherano. Having been very vocal about the effort he plans to give in his last World Cup, Mascherano will try and bridge the gap between defense and attack, while being a nuisance to any attacker on the opposing team sheet. Not the most creative player and certainly not a goal threat, Mascherano’s presence is meant to allow as many other players as possible license to attack. Outside of Mascherano will be one of two possible deep lying pairings. Our money is on Ever Banega, a player capable of actually emerging from a defensive role and aiding in the attack as it moves forward. Banega has been massive for Sevilla and their incredible Champions League run in the last year, so he certainly has earned a chance to line-up in the starting 11. If the line-up wants a little more defensive protection, Lucas Biglia might sit next to Mascherano. A near constant in the Argentinian set-up, the 32 year old will also be looking for his last World Cup to be his swan song.

While Angel Di Maria is listed as a midfielder in the 23 man-squad, Di Maria will get the starting nod (most likely) on the left side of a three player attack. Di Maria is a bit of a polarizing player as he does provide serious attacking threat, but he has a tendency to shoot when there are superior options. In fact, Di Maria took more shots than any other Argentina player (including Messi) during qualifying and the build-up to Russia 2018. If Di Maria and Russell Westbrook met each other at an event, they’d both probably feel like they were staring into a mirror.

With the remaining third spot in Argentina’s likely 4-3-3, the role will go to a player that hasn’t had much experience and will be seen as the future of La Albiceleste’s midfield. Maxi Meza is the least likely to start, as he only has one cap and plays outside of the major European leagues. Giovani Lo Celso might be seen as the player with the most promise, but his inclusion in the Spain debacle won’t help his case to join the starting ranks. However, already signed with PSG and having played quite a bit under Unai Emery, Lo Celso could use this tournament as his welcome party to the world’s biggest stage. If there’s a player not named, “Dybala,” that will be a younger player announcing himself to the world in Russia, it would be Lo Celso.

However, we’d love to finally see West Ham’s Manuel Lanzini finally get a proper shot with the national squad as a starter. Having missed the last major tournament through injury, Lanzini has only gotten three caps with the national team. This shouldn’t be held against the midfielder, because Lanzini has proven that he can score and that he can handle gritty games (he plays for West Ham in the Premier League, it doesn’t get much tougher). In fact, it would be a nod to effectiveness if we saw Di Maria take a seat in order to allow Lanzini the freedom to attack and strut his stuff. An easy candidate as one of the most underrated in the Prem, Lanzini could prove himself to be invaluable to the team in Russia.

Messi

The GOAT

STRIKERS

It’s incredible that the biggest stumbling block for a team that includes Messi is scoring. In a ten team qualifying region (CONMEBOL), Argentina was tied for the SECOND LOWEST SCORING during qualifying. On top of that, the finger of blame points everywhere BUT at Messi. Messi scored almost 50% of the goals scored for Argentina during qualifying and was tied for having the most assists. We’ve seen Messi-led squads work their way to the final of both the Copa America and the World Cup, but the lack of scoring help has ensured that Messi left both of those tournaments with a runner-up medal. At Russia, we completely expect Lionel Messi to be his other-worldly self and provide plenty of passing, scoring, and magic that we expect from the Barcelona man.

It’s what his compatriots do that will define Argentina’s fate.

Perhaps the biggest question mark for the attackers is an instance of who they decided NOT to bring. Mauro Icardi of Inter is coming off his best scoring campaign in his career, but the attacker will be enjoying Russia from the comforts of his living room. Instead, Argentina opted for the experience of Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain, and the youth of the impressive Paulo Dybala. Sergio Aguero and Higuain will certainly see Russia 2018 as their last chance to ride Messi’s coattails to success. Guessing which player will be coming off the subs bench and which will get the nod could be a difficult prediction, but the seasons that each player had leads us to think Higuain will start and Aguero will enter the fray as a super sub.

However, this tournament should be when we see Dybala getting a few glances into the starting line-up to prepare for the way after Aguero and Higuain move on. It’s also not going to be too tough for Argentina fans to see Higuain moving away from the manager’s selection process. There have been far too many instances of Argentina making it to the edge of the promised land, only to watch Higuain absolutely flop on the biggest of stages. Aguero has shown he can handle massive moments, and Dybala’s future has yet to be written, so our Argentina squad would actually see Higuain being the last choice attacker while the others prove themselves in Russia. Of course, we’d also bench Di Maria, so we obviously aren’t going to get our wish.

It will be interesting to see which groupings of all three we might get to see, we’d love to see Messi floating on the right, Aguero through the middle, and Lanzini or Dybala on the left. It would be a great blend of Argentinian legends and the players that will play massive roles for Argentina in 2022, and it could yield serious magic. No matter what, if this group can collectively match Messi’s goal output, there’s no reason to doubt this squad getting back within touching distance of international soccer’s greatest prize.

GAME by GAME (Iceland, Croatia, and Nigeria)

*Keys to Iceland game: The first fixture that major teams play at World Cups tend to be boring affairs. However, Argentina will be looking to stamp their mark, quickly forget their recent destruction against Spain, and avoid letting Iceland steal points against them. It will be interesting to see if Argentina decides to go with their preferred starting 11, or if Argentina didn’t watch any of the last European Championships. The embarrassment of riches at the front-line could also be settled in this fixture. Messi will always start, but whoever else gets the hot foot could make this World Cup their party.
Prediction: Argentina gets primed for battle with a 3-1 win

*Keys to Croatia game: While Argentina’s attack will get most of the focus, it will be their midfield and defense that enters the tournament surrounded by the most questions. Croatia will provide a great test and might actually put a serious cramp in Messi’s path to a second final. Whichever squad has more than 55% possession wins this game but, if neither team hits 55%, it’ll be a draw.
Prediction: Argentina decides to show flashes of qualifying (being poor) and only gets a point from a 2-2 draw..

*Keys to Nigeria game: Argentina will be praying that they could rest some players for this fixture and focus on the knockout stages, but Argentina’s stumbles heading into the tournament has us thinking they’ll struggle to exit their group. This fixture will also see if some of Argentina’s older player can still compete when faced with a squad that has incredible speed. Although Argentina feel ripe for a stumble in this World Cup, we can’t bet against Messi.
Prediction: Nervousness sees Messi rise to the top of the pile and drag Argentina to the knockout stages: 3-2 win.

La Albiceleste

Argentina World Cup Squad

Here’s the Argentinian Roster for Russia 2018
GOALKEEPERS (3): Franco Armani (River Plate), Willy Caballero (Chelsea), Nahuel Guzman (Tigres)

DEFENDERS (8): Gabriel Mercado (Sevilla), Cristian Ansaldi (Torino), Nicolas Otamendi (Man City), Federico Fazio (Roma), Marcos Rojo (Man United), Nicolas Tagliafico (Ajax), Marcos Acuna (Sporting), Eduardo Salvio (Benfica)

MIDFIELDERS (8): Javier Mascherano (Hebei), Lucas Biglia (Milan), Ever Banega (Sevilla), Giovani Lo Celso (PSG), Manuel Lanzini (West Ham), Angel Di Maria (PSG), Maxi Meza (Independiente), Cristian Pavon (Boca Juniors)

FORWARDS (4): Lionel Messi (Barcelona), Paulo Dybala (Juventus), Sergio Aguero (Man City), Gonzalo Higuain (Juventus)

Piece by Andrew McCole, frequent Center Circle writer, boot prince, and never walking alone at Liverpool FC.

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

About the author: Andrew McCole

 

If I may be so bold to condense my immense personality into two words, it would be: soccer nerd. I love everything about the beautiful game and I tend to reflect that in my writing. I suffer through Liverpool fandom and hope that they will win another title before my wife spreads my ashes at Anfield (considering I'm in my twenties, it seems somewhat likely). Although I also dabble in tennis, teaching, and coaching, most of my free-time is spent writing articles for The Center Circle! Feel free to stalk me on Google+

 

Recent posts in World Cup

 

No Comments

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

 

 

 
 
 
 
 

Post of the Week