Most pundits and even Lionel Messi’s worldwide army of admirers are beginning to acknowledge that the
FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ is likely to be his swansong appearance at the tournament. La Pulga will be 35 in June, which perhaps means more poignantly that Qatar 2022™ represents that final opportunity to lift the Jules Rimet trophy which has eluded him so far in a career otherwise awash with silverware.
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Messi and his teammates came within a hair’s breadth of winning the 2014 FIFA World Cup™ in Brazil, however after a long lean period of international setbacks, Argentina have the aura of real contenders once more. La Albicelestes’ 3-0 win over Uruguay in the famously tough South American Football Confederation CONMEBOL World Cup™ qualifying group, saw Messi net his 80th international goal and the team maintain their perfect unbeaten record to qualify.
Head coach Lionel Sebastián Scaloni and his Argentina team had already proved that they could win tournaments during last summer, when the national side finally brought the curtain down on a barren interlude of 28 years by winning the Copa America trophy. Messi virtually wept with emotion as he raised his first international prize and this could bode well for good fortune at Qatar 2022™. This is a team with momentum, packed with top players about to realise their full potential and a rejuvenated La Pulga at its core, and having shaken off their international trophy hoodoo they could well be poised for greatness.
Scaloni, who was assistant coach under Jorge Sampaoli when Argentina were beaten at the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ by France who would emerge as the eventual champions, appears to have lifted the side to a higher plane of performance. Messi himself seems to have been reborn in spirit and body as a member of an oh so individually talented yet cohesive squad.
Tightening up the balance of the Argentinian defence and midfield has been a priority and now a significant number of those nagging issues have been resolved, to the extent that La Albicelestes only conceded six goals over their ten qualifier matches to reach FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™.
There is now a confidence inspiring top-class goal keeper between the posts, most importantly Aston Villa’s Emiliano Martinez plays week-in week-out in the English Premier League, and is an enormous step up from Franco Armani, their first choice goalie at the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™.
While Nicolas Otamendi continues to demonstrate an excellent measure of experience among the younger defenders, the outstanding exponent of bringing the ball out from the back four is the 23-year-old Tottenham Hotspur centre-back Cristian Romero, whose huge talent is under ongoing development at both his English Premiership club and the Argentinian national side.
In front of the dynamic Otamendi – Romero duo, is Atletico Madrid’s in-form midfielder Rodrigo De Paul who at 27 is said to be at his peak. He has been partnered more recently in the Argentina squad by Leandro Paredes of Paris Saint-Germain. Paredes, also 27, brings the added experience of training and playing alongside Lionel Messi on a weekly basis for his club.
The feeling amongst the media and in the stands is that De Pual and Paredes have been crucial to the team’s improved performances. Add in resurgent central midfielder Giovanni Lo Celso, currently on loan at La Liga club Villarreal, also from Tottenham Hotspur. Lo Celso, is a hugely industrious player from wide positions, which coupled with his ability to deliver serial quality balls in the final third, represents another essential ingredient to the way this side plays.
However, in the opinion of many the real reason behind La Albiceleste’s success is they are now getting consistent high performance from their mercurial wearer of the number 10 shirt. Returning to playing that free role behind the striker, just as he did back in 2014, Lionel Messi simply has the latitude to do what he does best. There is also the profitable partnership he has established with Argentina’s number-one striker, Lautaro Martinez. Inter Milan’s hot property is the latest off the line of exceptional galactico forwards his country has produced, aged 24 with 16 goals in 32 international caps.
Nevertheless, the overall question remains: can Argentina and Lionel Messi finally win the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™?
In an interview with Telemundo Sports (via 90min), Pep Guardiola former Barcelona, Bayern Munich manager and Manchester City manager since 2016, talked about Lionel Messi’s chances of winning the FIFA World Cup™ with Argentina:
“Winning the Copa America for any group gives you a feeling of ‘we did it,’ and I’m sure that will help in the
FIFA World Cup. I have seen little of Scaloni’s team, but they have not lost for a long time, and that feeling that you are winning and not losing is going to give you strength, Guardiola pointed out.
Guardiola went on to discuss how Messi’s mere presence in the squad affected the mood and spirit among the whole team:
“The fact of having him there, knowing that he has the unique ability to always create two or three personal actions out of nothing, be it goals or generating play with his forward teammates like Di María, Lautaro, or Julián Álvarez. That feeling of strength is great,” Guardiola observed.
Argentina have been drawn in Group C at Qatar 2022™, where they will meet Mexico, Poland, and Saudi Arabia on the first part of their journey. Undoubtedly, they will find themselves under pressure to make major progress in the competition, having already been labelled favourites to advance from the group. We wish them well.
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