Poor Argentina: The team’s camp is a converted women’s dormitory at Qatar University. The guest workers guarding this place like a presidential palace wither in the sun. The Dutch are one dorm away, but given the isolation of each team, they could be a whole planet away.
Argentinian players and staff are trapped in this cream-coloured barrack-style building for endless hours to contemplate. liquidation risk from world Cup after their humiliating first defeat to Saudi Arabia. The Argentine media are calling Saturday’s second group game against Mexico the “final”. Lose and the team’s campaign and Lionel Messi’s 17 years in blue and white is virtually over.
Albicelesta landed here on 36-match unbeaten streak, but as with many teams at the World Championships, their first contact with the reality of the tournament forced them to give up all their beliefs. The hostel is buzzing with conversations between players and staff about what to do. Coach Lionel Scaloni is planning several changes from his original starting XI. Will Argentina be able to save themselves, or are they doomed to the sins of their ancestors?
The first thing to say is that they were unlucky to lose 2-1 to the Saudis. Expected Goals, a metric that measures the quality of a team’s chances, was 2.45 for Argentina and just 0.21 for Saudi Arabia. analytical group Statsbomb. But the Saudis scored twice from incredible positions. To conclude that Argentina is a bad team would be to practice journalism on the scoreboard. They have assets: Messi remains the best player in the world, agile scorer Lautaro Martinez can serve as his rival, and most positions in Argentina have players, if not from the world football elite, then at least from the upper middle class.
However, even if they improve, they won’t be the world class team they thought they were a week ago. Their isolation from mainstream European football has been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic and the creation of UEFA’s Nations League, further limiting Argentina’s ability to face European teams.
The experience of their players in European clubs is not enough. Except Messi. who arrived at Barcelona at the age of 13, most of them grew up in Argentine football until at least their teenage years, and when they all come together without the loosening influence of foreign teammates and coaches, they demonstrate the collective flaws in their country’s football upbringing. This frighteningly uncreative team is more Argentinian than global: skillful, tough, sluggish, and one pass below the likes of Spain, France or England.
Before the defeat on Tuesday, the Argentines liked the style of their team. Our (“Ours”), they call it a horizontal, slow game dating back to the great San Lorenzo clubs of the 1940s (and still revered by Argentinean Pope Francis).
But, as in the last World Cup, Argentina’s defense against Saudi Arabia struggled to see and execute standard forward passes. Midfielder Giovani Lo Celso, a rare player who could reliably put Messi, is missing the World Cup due to injury. Without it, their clumsy advance gives the opponents plenty of time to cement the wall.
Argentina has long dreamed of Messi doing it alone – becoming a soloist like Diego Maradona, who led an equally mediocre Argentine team to glory at the 1986 World Cup. But Barcelona has turned Messi into a European collectivist footballer who wants to team up with others. Alternatively, Argentina would like him to be a 100 touches per game link like Juan Roman Riquelme from the previous Albicelesta generation. But Messi can’t even do that: at 35, he treats what is likely to be his last tournament as an endurance fight.
To win, he will need to complete six more games in 24 days. As with his clubs in recent years, he conserves energy by only calling the ball when he sees an opportunity for a decisive moment. Since Argentina creates few opportunities, he rarely calls and mostly just watches teammates work. Let’s hope he drew energy from Wednesday’s visit to the hostel of his entire clan – parents, brothers, wife and sons.
Against Mexico, Scaloni is expected to rebuild his defense by getting rid of disappointing full-backs Nicolás Tagliafico and Nahuel Molina and bringing in Manchester United’s Lisandro Martinez, who is capable of making a very missed pass from defense. Their Mexican rivals are, ironically, being coached by an Argentinean: Tata Martino, former coach of his home country and close friend of Messi from their hometown of Rosario.
Group game in pop-up stadium In Doha, Messi’s international career could not have ended, but as he learned from the previous four tournaments, the world championships are brutal.