The 2014 World Cup finalists, Argentina barely scraped through the qualifiers to gain a spot in Russia this summer. Going through three separate coaches in the campaign and scoring only 19 goals in 18 games, it took a Lionel Messi hat-trick in the final game against Ecuador to prevent Argentina from missing out on a first World Cup finals since 1970. They have a lot of work to do between now and the start of the competition in the summer if they are to have any chance of success. Messi carried them through to the final in the last World Cup in Brazil, but ultimately he wasn’t enough to secure the title of champions. It will take a team effort to succeed in Russia.
World Cup champions on two occasions previously, 1978 and 1986, Argentina have a squad comprised of talented individuals, yet they seem to lack the team structure and direction needed to gel together and get consistent results. Helped in no part by the chopping and changing of managers throughout the qualifying campaign, established club players such as Paulo Dybala and Nicolas Otamendi have thus far failed to impress at international level. For Argentina to progress deep into the competition this summer, the team’s stars need to perform. This is perhaps Messi’s final chance at World Cup glory, but he cannot win it all by himself.
- Lionel Messi (Barcelona) – Lionel Messi is a footballing magician, and rivals Christiano Ronaldo for the title of best player in the world. There is no doubt that he was Argentina’s best player during qualification, saving their reputation and securing qualification with three goals and a dominant performance in the final qualifying game. He cannot be expected to do it all on his own however, and coach Jorge Sampaoli needs to select a team that gives Messi a structure to work within, while also allowing for alternatives if Messi is not available, through injury or suspension.
- Nicolas Otamendi (Manchester City) – Otamendi will be expected to be the leader of Argentina’s defensive unit this summer, much like he has been for his club in the Premier League this season in the absence of Vincent Kompany. Although much improved from last season, recent performances for Manchester City have shown that Otamendi can still be easily caught out and exposed against free-flowing and pacey attackers, and as such Argentina will really struggle against the likes of Spain or France, should the teams meet.
Jorge Sampaoli – After the departures of Gerardo Martino and Edgardo Bauza, Jorge Sampaoli became Argentina’s third coach of the qualifying campaign, and was in charge for the final four games. Having previously employed a high-pressing attacking game plan with former sides Chile and Sevilla, Sampaoli is clearly trying to implement this into the Argentinian team. However, lacking quality full-backs, he used wingers instead in the recent game against Nigeria, but this resulted in the team being severely exposed, losing 4-2. Argentina face Nigeria in their final group game this summer, and Sampaoli will have to have a better plan this time around.