Even in 2016, Argentina were one of the best teams in the World. Three years from then, here we are, people don’t even bet on them to beat Venezuela. The question of what is wrong with the team is obvious, and another question that rises is if they can recover from this to their prime. The questions are complicated and so are the answers, but the answers are what every Argentina fan around the globe is looking for.
Let’s start with the second question. Can they return to their former place? The answer has to be yes. The team is full of talented players, and as a footballing nation, Argentina have continuously produced world class talents. Just look at the names - Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero, Angel Di Maria - all have dominated Europe, and the first one the list, has been one of the greatest ever to play the game. Even their youngsters like Lautaro Martinez, Nicolas Tagliafico, Leandro Paredes, Giovanni Lo Celso - are lauded as World Class talents and future world beaters. But they have not managed to put up a team, because the 11 players they line up on the field don’t really look like they are a team. And now comes the question, why? Why aren’t they the team they were anymore? The reasons are not few in number, and let’s explore them.
Argentina’s downfall started after their defeat to Chile in 2016, in the Copa America Centenario final. Lionel Messi, Javier Mascherano and Sergio Aguero announced their retirement from international football and coach Gerardo Martino resigned, it was a massive blow for the Argentina Football Association (AFA). Albeit they returned from their retirement in a short span, but the blow sent AFA into madness. The manager they introduced next was Eduardo Bauza, and that is where the trouble began.
Bauza, the veteran coach, wasn’t someone even near capable to coach a team of Argentina’s stature. His mediocre mentality reflected on the team, and they started showing lacklustre performances. It was like Maradona all over, just instead of putting players in the wrong positions, Bauza kept on selecting mediocre players in his team. The whole burden was on Lionel Messi, and as it has happened over the years, the pressure was too much for the little magician. After a calamity in Bauza, the Argentine board brought in Jorge Sampaoli, a fan favorite and the man behind Chile’s triumph against Argentina in the 2015 Copa America final.
But the desired change in the managerial role didn’t bring any significant changes to the team as they still looked unsettled. They were poor in their qualifiers for the Russia World Cup and they almost did not qualify, just for an incredible Lionel Messi hattrick against Ecuador on their final game to take them through. The matches leading to the World Cup didn’t show much promise as they were thrashed 6-1 by Spain at Madrid in a friendly match. They started their World Cup campaign with a draw against Iceland as their captain Messi’s penalty was saved by the goalkeeper. Their next match against Croatia was a horror show as the Croats went on to beat them 3-0. They had to win against Nigeria to qualify for the knockout stage, and they did with Marcos Rojo clinched the winner on 86th minute. Argentina were through, but their match in the Round of 16 was against France, who later went on to win the whole thing. Argentina lost the match 4-3 after a valiant effort, but a defeat was a defeat, and that meant they were out of the tournament. Sampaoli’s decision making was questionable throughout the tournament, as his team selection looked clueless. The team weren’t playing football of any quality, and it was pretty obvious that he wouldn’t stay at the helm after all of these. He didn’t, and his protege Lionel Scaloni was appointed as the interim manager. Scaloni did a better job than his predecessors with stars like Messi taking a rest from the national side, youngsters fared pretty well under him but there was never any constant threat from the former defender’s side. Even after Messi and other stars returned, his team was defensive and played to not concede rather than score. His defensive approach to the game has been condemned, but he hasn’t changed. And this Copa America has showed exactly what’s wrong with playing at first gear.
Look at this Argentina side. They don’t have a Javier Mascherano to clean up, and that has probably led Scaloni to play a tad defensive. But he must remember, no Mascherano means if he lets the opposition attack, there’s nobody to take the ball away from them or to make pinpoint tackles to stop them. This Argentine side have midfielders who blossom playing attacking football, every time these players were tried in a defensive position or tactics, they blundered. Giovanni Lo Celso was used as a pivot at PSG and he was often the weakest link in the team. But once he got the opportunity to play in a more attacking role at Real Betis, he flourished. No wonder the Albiceleste midfield has found it tough to control the games, and yes, it’s not only because the pitches of Brazil are scrappy.
Lionel Messi might be the greatest of his generation, but he can’t save them this time. After all he’s just human, and you can not hide a huge mountain of problems behind a man who is known for crumbling under pressure. The more weight you put on the little genius, the more will his spine crack and the less we’ll be able to devour his brilliance. Argentina have a lot of problems and they need to solve them fast.
They will face Brazil in the semifinals, and they are going to the match as clear underdogs. That states Argentina’s fall from grace, they can’t even stand face-to-face with their arch rivals. They have been thrown out of Olympus for their own fault, and they need to find a way to redeem themselves. Or else, they’ll just have to drop to hell, and they’ll have to be mere humans who will try to fight the giants from Jotunheim and fail.