After two World Cups and three finals, some hope this year’s team will once again lift the prestigious trophy.
Past World Cup appearances: 17
Best workmanship: Winners (1978, 1986)
Main role: Lionel Messi
fixtures: Saudi Arabia (November 22), Mexico (November 26), Poland (November 30)
Argentina’s nearly 30 run of pain and tears in key finals came to an end last year when they won the Copa America and Lionel Scaloni’s team is heading to the World Cup by drawing confidence from that triumph in Brazil.
Argentina’s national team, La Albiceleste, have last lost at the 2019 Copa America and are flying into Qatar after a 35-match unbeaten run and as one of the firm favorites to break Europe’s 16-year stranglehold on the World Cup.
Much of the credit for winning an important final after six failed attempts goes to Scaloni, the 44-year-old who rose from assistant to doomed manager Jorge Sampaoli, to caretaker and finally to permanent boss.
The Argentine Football Association entrusted the rebuilding project to Scaloni, who took over after their exit from the 2018 World Cup in the last 16 and with him at the helm, Argentina followed up the 2021 Copa victory by comfortably beating Euro winners Italy in June’s ‘Finalissima’.
Argentina had been a top side for many years with a luxury of options to choose from in attack, but were let down by a defense and midfield that leaked goals. Scaloni’s first assignment was to change that.
Older players went out and young hungry hopefuls came in as Scaloni implemented his vision for a successful team that would later be nicknamed “La Scaloneta” – the house Scaloni built.
Goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez, central defender Cristian Romero and midfielder Rodrigo De Paul formed the backbone of the revamped squad as Scaloni found players capable of taking some of the burden off Lionel Messi’s shoulders.
Their possession-based game, with the likes of Giovani Lo Celso, Leandro Paredes and De Paul dictating the pace, gave Messi the freedom to get involved further up the pitch where he is most lethal.
Their talisman was encouraged by Scaloni’s changes and tactical insight, which made them more determined to perform well for Argentina and even played through injury in the Copa America semi-finals.
“Scaloni is one of us,” said Messi. “It was he who chose the national team, the one who believed, the one who took the lead at a difficult moment. He gave us confidence, he brought in new people, he always knew what he wanted and we grew. From the 2019 Copa America we made a leap.”
The 35-year-old was the best player at the 2014 World Cup as he came agonizingly close to replicating Diego Maradona’s success in leading Argentina to World Cup glory, only to be beaten in the final by a superior German team.
Messi is the only remaining member of that starting line-up at the Maracana stadium. But this time he has the backing of a team built by Scaloni to win not only matches, but also titles.
Argentina is grouped with Saudi Arabia, Mexico and Poland.