Argentina has fielded its squad for the World Cup in Qatar, which is just over a week away. Coach Lionel Scaloni named a solid 26-man roster that he picked from the well-established core of players as La Albiceleste enter the tournament as one of the heavy favourites.
Headlines and cameras will show Lionel Messi as the diminutive left-handed wizard enters his fifth and possibly last World Cup with the aim of winning the biggest prize in world football. The 35-year-old has 19 appearances in the last 4 World Cups, 2 behind cult hero Diego Maradona.
Scaloni took over from former coach Jorge Sampaoli’s disastrous reign, finishing third in the 2019 Copa América. Argentina is undefeated in 35 matches in all competitions and is closing in on Italy’s all-time record of 37. The South American team finished second in qualifying. for the World Cup behind Brazil, but broke their long wait of 28 years by winning the Cup. America beat their arch-rivals at the Maracana last year. Scaloni also led his team to an excellent 3-0 victory over Italy in June in the Finalissima.
Argentina has a mix of a strong core that Scaloni has amassed since taking office. Emiliano Martínez has been a calm presence under the sticks, reminiscent of the shadows of former goalkeeper Sergio Goycochea with his heroism in the penalty shootout against Colombia in the 2021 Copa América semi-final.
In defence, Nicolás Otamendi and Cuti Romero have dominated opposing strikers, rarely making mistakes. Lisandro Martinez, who has been the star of the season since he joined Manchester United from Ajax, provides a capable backup. Nicolás Tagliafico and Marcus Acuña occupy the left wing, while Nahuel Molina, Gonzalo Montiel and Juan Foyth take on the role of right back.
The absence of Giovani Lo Celso is a great loss
Midfield is where Argentina will be greatly weakened, as they will miss out on influential creative midfielder Giovani Lo Celso, who has been Scaloni’s favorite since the 44-year-old took over. The Villareal player suffered a hamstring injury against Real Betis at the end of October and did his best to avoid surgery and travel to Qatar. However, with the muscle tear and detachment, the silky left-footed midfielder had no choice but to eventually undergo surgery.
Although Enzo Fernandez is a very capable substitute and is having a great season at Benfica attracting great interest from a number of clubs including Manchester United, Argentina will miss Lo Celso’s connecting ability with Messi in the attacking third. In addition, Lo Celso had formed a great understanding with midfielders Leandro Paredes and Rodrigo De Paul, the triumvirate that has been key to Argentina’s recent exploits. Alexis Mac Alister and Exequiel Palacios have shone for Brighton and Bayer Leverkusen, however neither bring the creative cunning and silky-smooth dribbling ability of Lo Celso.
The miraculous recovery of Paulo Dybala
Even a week ago, not everyone was sure about Paulo Dybala’s involvement in Qatar. The 28-year-old has been sensational since he joined Roma in the summer with five goals and two assists. However, when he left the field with his leg caught in a 2-1 win over Leece, manager José Mourinho described his star striker as likely to miss the rest of the year.
However, after a special recovery regimen, the former Juventus sensation rightly earns his place in the squad. Much was expected of Dybala in the colors of Argentina and, despite not living up to his credentials, he is the kind of player who can turn a game around.
Argentina have been placed alongside Poland, Mexico and Saudi Arabia in group stages that they should be able to navigate easily. Messi and his gang of merry men could then take on Denmark and the Netherlands in their knockout matches and winning both could see them line up against Brazil in the semi-finals. If they navigate their fellow continental rivals, Messi could face his teammate Kylian Mbappe and France in the final. After all, who wouldn’t want Argentina’s number 10 to win the trophy by following in the footsteps of the greatest son on earth, Diego Maradona.
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