Today, with Argentina, we conclude our profiles, provided in reverse alphabetical order, of the 32 teams which qualified for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
La Albiceleste (the white and light blue) are participating in their eighteenth World Cup. They have won it twice, once in 1978 at home under nefarious conditions and once brilliantly in 1986 in Mexico, and came in as runners-up in 1930, 1990, and 2014. Otherwise, they have made the quarterfinals four times, the Round of 16 four times, and left at the Group Stage four times. The pinnacle of their performance was Diego Maradona’s apotheosis in Mexico which included the parallel Argentine theme of unsportsmanlike and godly outings when he both produced the “Hand of God” goal against England and the “Greatest Goal of the World Cup” moments later in the same match.
Since 2006 (going on five World Cups), when the current greatest player in the world, Lionel Messi, came on the scene, he has been increasingly, and in the last two, solely, the national team’s emblem, hope, and best player. Placed in Group C with Saudi Arabia, Mexico, and Poland, the Argentines should have no problem progressing their only issue will be whether as top of the group in which case they will likely remain on their side of the bracket and meet Denmark or come in second and likely meet France on the opposite side of the bracket. Expect Messi’s troops to progress without much issue.
The Argentine home kit is as world-renowned as the Uruguayan, English, French, or Brazilian, all teams using specific, classic, and long-term colors resulting in team nicknames reflecting their kit colors. Their away kit has often been experimental. Today the home kit is a white shirt with vertical light blue stripes, black shorts with white stripes, and white socks with blue horizontal stripes at the top. Their away kit is all purple with a mix of light and dark for the shirt, dark for the shorts, and dark with lighter horizontal stripes for the socks.
Argentina, at 1.074M square miles, and 2,300 miles long by 1,400 miles wide, is the eighth largest country in the world, one of the most biodiverse, and one of the few that is fully self-sufficient given its rich natural resources (Argentina derives its name from the Latin word for silver-Argentum), fisheries, and plentiful agricultural production. Its largeness encompasses several climactic (warm, moderate, arid, and cold) and geographic regions the earliest humans in the country were recorded in the Paleolithic period. The Inca Empire ruled its northernmost regions in Pre-Columbian times, and it was colonized by the Spanish and achieved San Martin-led independence in 1816 only to embark on a 45-year civil war the culmination of which brought a federal presidential republic and stability, during which time several waves of European immigrants to the point where 60% of the Argentine population can trace its roots to Italy. There are more people with Papa’s Italian last name living in Buenos Aires than in either Italy or the USA.
The 47M Argentines speak Spanish (though the Spaniards are not convinced), are 97% European ethnically, 80% Christian, have a GDP of $1.2T, and have an HDI of 0.842 (very high). Argentina has given us: Tango, Carlos Gardel, the best beef in the world, chorizo, chimichurri, asados, great wine, Corrientes Avenue, Teatro Colon, great cinema and television, Eva and Juan Peron, the Pampas, Guerra Sucia, the disappeared, Nestor and Cristina Kirchner, General Jorge Rafael Videla and his junta, Buenos Aires, three Nobel prizes, Pope Francis, Jorge Luis Borges, Julio Cortazar, Victoria Ocampo, Adolfo Bioy Caseres, Ernesto Sabato, Martin Fierro, Don Segundo Sombra, Facundo, Alfredo di Stefano, Diego Maradona, Carlos Monzon, Guillermo Vilas, Gabriela Sabatini, Viggo Mortensen, Juan Manuel Fangio, Che Guevara, Atahualpa Yupanqui, Luciana Aymar, Manu Ginobili, Mercedes Sosa, Valeria Mazza, Yamila Diaz-Rahi, Tato Bores, 25 of May, and Avenida 9 de Julio, Avenida de Mayo and Calle Florida.
Squad (which may change before the cup given injuries, form, and coaching choices—teams mentioned are subject to change given transfers): Goalkeepers—Franco Armani (River Plate), Emiliano Martinez (Aston Villa), Juan Musso (Atalanta), and Geronimo Rulli (Villarreal); Defenders—Nahuel Molina (Atletico Madrid), Gonzalo Montiel (Sevilla), German Pezzella (Real Betis), Nicolas Otamendi (Benfica), Facundo Medina (Lens), Nehuen Perez (Udinese), Cristian Romero (Tottenham), Lisandro Martinez (Manchester United), Nicolas Tagliafico (Lyon), Marcos Acuna (Sevilla), and Lucas Martinez Quarta (Fiorentina); Midfielders—Guido Rodriguez (Real Betis), Rodrigo De Paul (Atletico Madrid), Exequiel Palacios (Bayer Leverkusen), Alexis Mac Allister (Brighton), Giovani Lo Celso (Villarreal), Enzo Fernandez (Benfica), Thiago Almada (Atlanta United), Alejandro Gomez (Sevilla), Angel Di Maria (Juventus), and Leandro Paredes (Juventus); Strikers—Lionel Messi (PSG), Nicolas Gonzalez (Fiorentina), Angel Correa (Atletico Madrid), Lautaro Martinez (Inter), Paulo Dybala (Roma), Julian Alvarez (Manchester City), and Joaquin Correa (Inter).
Path to Qatar
Argentina came in second to Brazil in CONMEBOL qualifiers and thus punched their ticket directly to Qatar via eleven wins, six draws, no defeats, and a +19-goal differential.
Coach Lionel Scaloni has the Argentines playing a 4-3-3 with Messi on the right, Lautaro Martinez as the center forward, and Angel di Maria (perhaps the second most important contributor to the team) as the left wing. Their midfield has become solid with three outstanding two-way starters and their defense, their weak point, has solidified of late. They are on a three-year roll not having lost a match since their 0-2 loss to Brazil in the semifinals of the Copa America in June of 2019 when over the previous three-year period (2016-2018) they had lost ten times. The key for them is to keep their starters healthy and in their groove, as their subs are not at the same level as their starters and their overall squad, when off their groove, is just a B+ team.
The single indispensable player is the best player on the planet, Messi. But for the Albiceleste to go far in the tourney they need all of their players to be at their very best. The drop from Messi is precipitous as many countries have better players at almost all other positions on the field. That said, their starters are good enough support for La Pulga to do his thing and if they can maintain their groove they can go far in Qatar.
Group and Tourney Prospects
Argentina is hoping to bring home the cup as it is Messi’s last one. But they have a tough road ahead. Their group is a perfect blend of challenges as though the Saudis should be easy prey, the Mexicans will be an emotional challenge, and the Poles a physical one. Progressing from their group in second place is their best bet to make a deep run in the cup as they are on the tough side of the bracket with Brazil, Spain, and Germany, teams they do not match as well against as they do with ones on the other side—Belgium, England, and France. Papa predicts the team will get to the Quarterfinals where they will slip off their groove and play their one normal match against a team just then peaking and be eliminated.