Argentina came to this year’s World Cup among the strong favorites. Based on betting odds, they had been the bookmaker’s sixth favorites to go all the way in Russia — before the likes of Belgium, Portugal and Uruguay to name a couple, and marginally behind France, Spain and Germany amongst others. Why so? There are a couple of straightforward factors.
For one, they have one of the all-time greats in Lionel Messi playing possibly his last World Cup. They have a supervisor with an international pedigree and is widely lauded for his strategic innovativeness. They have an all-star attacking unit with some of the best forwards in the world. Why couldn’t they move one farther?
On the surface of it, everything seemed ready, but the past six-odd months are a disaster that has unraveled the mess that the Argentina Football Association are and the mess they have created over the past couple of years which has gone largely under the radar as each piece of positive news just papered over the cracks. Ever since they attained the collapse at the Maracanã four years ago, there were difficulties brewing on and off the pitch and at the 3-0 defeat to Croatia, which places out one foot from the door, it’s all been exposed, and it’s been made clear that a major and thorough overhaul is necessary if they would like to prevent going into further turmoil.
INSTABILITY IN THE COACHING DEPARTMENT
Starting off with all the training situation. With three coaches to take you through three years of qualifying, it’s apparent that the equilibrium required, the procedure executed, and the right balance is going to be difficult to find when the time comes. It All Began with Gerardo Martino following the World Cup, but he left after the two failures in the Copa América. Then came Edgardo Bauza, but his incompetence of his state led to them facing the prospect of missing the finals and then came Sampaoli, one of Argentina’s finest coaches of the modern age, but his disaster at the World Cup, where he made basic errors in strategy and selection has left a mark on his CV.
Why would he pick Willy Caballero — a 36-year-old who was a second-choice at club level for much of the last four years, playing less than 50 games, a player with zero international caps before 2018 and a participant whose best days were past him ages ago over somebody as respected since Franco Armani is beyond odd. Even Sergio Romero, Argentina’s first selection for almost a decade has been dropped because of a severe knee problem, but his party claims his injury identification was overstated by the medical team.
He fell Marcos Rojo, that was arguably the right thing to do, but he’d discipline Nicholas Otamendi, and pairing him with Nicolás Tagliafico along with Gabriel Mercado, two full-backs by trade, in a three-man defense that left him vulnerable to the strong Croatian midfield and attack. Otamendi didn’t have any security and he is not quite the man to direct a defense by himself, and that has been demonstrated into the world against Croatia. So often they were permitted to break free and the 3-0 scoreline is most likely generous into the Argentine back-four (defenders and goalkeeper), who were incredibly atrocious with this level.
THE SQUADS INCOMPETENCE
Next is that the incompetence of the entire team, the lack of individuality and the passiveness of the midfield.
The midfield anonymity resulted in the two guys out wide, Eduardo Salvio and Javier Acuña with too much responsibility to carry the assault and that abandoned Lionel Messi and Sergio Agüero using a sterile night — practically nothing to do. Messi is great, Agüero is great, but if paired with nine others who are quite average, their greatness is going to have to be packed away. Sampaoli’s decision to drop Ángel Di María was clever, but when he’d played the bright Cristian Pavón at a completely different set-up into the one he did field, maybe the result against Croatia would’ve been slightly better.
Sampaoli made errors in his choice and strategies for the Iceland match for which he was scrutinized. How he’d play with a defense against a side that was going to sit back and absorb stress without a very clear ball carrier is a strange choice, and even more peculiar is the fact he persisted with more mediocrity for the match against Croatia. Arguably more than anybody, this World Cup will take a huge hit his stock — he will have a massive self-redeeming task wherever he oversees adjacent following the finals.
Yes, he’s good, yes, he’s among the best ever, but if you’re requesting just him to haul you through the one contest everyone wants to do well in, you are walking into trouble. No staff among the 32 are more dependent on one man to drag them through a rough patch over Argentina.
Messi almost completed them on the way to Russia along with his disapproving body language was clear. At the time of the national anthems, he looked dejected and bothered, with his hands covering his face, which is hardly what you want from the captain, and though there could be a situation to state that he should be greater with his expression to drive his team ahead, his team, although less expressively, were likely just too distressed.
Against Iceland, he had the opportunity to ease his difficulty but failed along with his spot-kick. Against Croatia, he was anonymous, with his frequent disappearance clearly affecting the driveway inside this side. They still have one more game to rescue themselves, but obviously, a bewildered Messi is not functioning, and an equally dazed supporting cast — if they show it or not — does not do much to assist him. The fault partially falls upon him too, but following two rather meager games, he and Agüero are the only ones who’ll come out with the least battering from lovers and supporters alike.
SAMPAOLI’S MAJOR PROBLEMS
Then came Sampaoli’s own problems. Prior to the tournament’s kick-off there were allegations of him misbehaving with female members of the Argentine staff and only prior to the Croatia match, there was talk of him with a heated argument with his supporters in front of the whole team, and if it actually happened or not is still up in the atmosphere, but it certainly would have had any effect to him along with his roster. He is a wise manager, a guy who takes his time but yields great results, but this appointment is one of the most botched in today’s era among all significant federal teams and he also did little to assist himself in a challenging job. Luckily for him, it isn’t entirely his fault.
Even following the calamity against Croatia, he took much of the responsibility for the defeat but also believed that his players didn’t follow his”job”, to which a disheartened Sergio Agüero responded that he didn’t care what his manager said or thought. Clearly, this sort of toxicity at the dressing room, where the supervisor, players, and staff are at a constant quarrel is a recipe for disaster.
Maybe he had been appointed too late. His predecessor, Edgardo Bauza was under even more pressure and he had not even led them to a significant tournament. Perhaps if Sampaoli arrived sooner than he did, he would’ve had a much better showing in Russia. And while that won’t ever be known, the chances of that look low as the AFA themselves happen to be in chaos.
They haven’t been able to have a worthy president accountable for The previous one, Luis Segura, was caught up in fees for fraud since 2016 and they had to wait until the following year to elect Claudio Tapia. The fact that they had instability on and off the pitch just a year prior to the finals, with no president to the FA and the training situation unclear speaks volumes about their insufficient and scandalous preparations.
And just prior to the tournament, they had the embarrassment of canceling a favorable against Israel, which means that their preparation was faulty. Friendlies with Israel are believed to be a small tradition before the World Cup finals, but they would schedule it at the first place with such a politically-charged environment is inexplicable. They couldn’t get the warm-ups they had, and they had to come from this situation looking silly, which is hardly the perfect groundwork ahead of the biggest tournament in soccer.
This is the definitely the end of the road for the guys that were so often unlucky in the period in which they had been consistently losing finals between 2014 and 2016. This World Cup may just be the conclusion of Agüero, Mascherano, Di María and others, but what will hit them is the possible retirement of Messi. For the new era, Argentina needs to be smart with their decisions. The likes of Pavón, Mauro Icardi, Leandro Paredes and Lautaro Martínez are waiting in the wings, and when they were not used now, they need to be given significance in the long term.
A botched preparation that has been in the works for the best part of this decade has been there for the world to see in 1 night in Nizhny Novgorod. There’s still hope for Argentina to create it through, but these super-high odds on them moving all of the ways seem all too senseless now. It is going to be a wonder to see them make it through should they confront France, who look the likeliest competitions for them at the Round of 16.
Ideas of seeing golden on 15 July ought to be dwindling if they haven’t died off completely. Possibly the worst preparation of any of the 31 countries led to one of their worst World Cup group stage performances in today’s era and it’s no less than that which they deserve. In the pitch, to the boardroom, to the locker room, this is a Massive wake-up call for the country