Why Argentina fans were so confident about winning this World Cup
The last few FIFA World Cups haven't been kind to Argentina. The underwhelming 2010 campaign was followed up by the heartbreak of 2014 in Brazil. Fans' expectations hit rock bottom in 2018, when, under Jorge Sampaoli, the Albiceleste's mission turned into a farce as they exited from the round of 16.
This time though, Argentina fans are feeling more excited than ever. For the first time in years, Argentina head into the World Cup as one of the clear favourites, with fans increasingly confident that their team can go all the way.
The man behind this transformation is none other than their coach, Lionel Scaloni. Taking over a rudderless, ageing team in search of an identity, Scaloni delivered exactly what was expected of him.
At times, however, even the players doubted him. In a recent interview with GOAL, midfielder Rodrigo De Paul detailed how Scaloni won the players over with his coaching style, especially in the victorious Copa America 2021 campaign. It speaks volumes of Scaloni's character.
Among his many transformational measures, his faith in the youth really stands out.
In The 2018 FIFA World Cup, Argentina had the oldest squad with an average age of 29.3 years. It has now been reduced to 27.7. Having younger players not only makes the squad more dynamic but also brings in the kind of youthful energy which teams need to succeed. Versatility is vital for any team to succeed, something which lacked in the Argentina teams of the past.
Working with youngsters also allowed Scaloni to personally mould players into the types suited to his tactics, which emphasises the players' technical flexibility. Take De Paul and Paulo Dybala as examples. Under Scaloni, both grew up to be key cogs in the Argentine team, with De Paul acting as the midfield general enforcing both defence and attacks, while Dybala offered a creative outlet as the second striker or occasionally as a winger.
One glaring feature of Argentina's previous World Cup teams was their lack of commitment. Despite being mercurially talented, the previous generation of players failed on the international stage due to their lack of team spirit. It was especially stark in 2018 when players were on the verge of revolting.
The class of 2022 is the polar opposite of the bygone era. The passion these players possess for their country is clear to see. We got a taste of it in the Copa America 2021 when the Argentines united as one to win their first major trophy in 28 years. The announcement that Qatar 2022 will be Leo Messi and Angel di Maria's last World Cup will further increase the sense of unity as the squad looks to give these legends the send-off their careers deserve.
In terms of ability, the current crop is already going toe-to-toe with the previous generation, which included the likes of Gonzalo Higuain, Kun Aguero, and Javier Mascherano among others. Their 35-game unbeaten streak, stretching back to Copa America 2019, is a testament to the players' consistency and skills. The 2022 Finalissima (CONMEBOL–UEFA Cup of Champions) against Italy in June was defining as it showed the world that these players are ready to give the elites fierce competition as they outclassed Italy technically and tactically.
There are a few players who will be key to Argentina's chances. Messi and Di Maria, knowing it's their last World Cups, will surely be pumped up to play the main roles. In Emiliano Martinez, Argentina has a dependable goalkeeper which they lacked since Sergio Romero's heyday.
The young players will be vital as they progress in the World Cup. Under the coaching of Scaloni and the mentorship of Aguero, the expectation is they will grow into prominence as the World Cup progresses. The likes of Lisandro Martinez, Enzo Fernandez, and Julian Alvarez might well establish their true worth in this World Cup.
After years of struggle, Argentina finally has a generation of players who are not only talented but also have a fierce passion towards their country and the team. Even the unfortunate injury to playmaker Giovanni Lo Celso couldn't dampen the moods.
The depth in their ranks has been proven as Napoli attacker Giovanni Simeone and Manchester United sensation Alejandro Garnacho were left out despite their good forms. Going into the World Cup stronger than ever, and with an exciting talent pool, Argentina fans can genuinely hope this World Cup is the start of a new era of dominance for the Albiceleste.
Inqiad is a passionate Bucks fan and a certified Giannis stan. Contact him at [email protected]