It is that point once more. Do or die. In or out. Mud off the previous cliche about how, from right here on out, it is a direct elimination event and each sport is a closing. As a result of for Argentina it is now a actuality. If Lionel Messi and Co. fail to beat Qatar on Sunday night time, their Copa America is over with a whimper.
The trophyless drought will prolong to 26 years, all the way in which again to 1993, when Gabriel Batistuta, Fernando Redondo and Diego Simeone led the Albiceleste to the Copa America in Ecuador. It is by some margin the longest streak amongst footballing superpowers with regards to continental titles and World Cups. And should you’re a type of pedants who needs to level out the 2 Olympic Gold medals — do not. They do not depend.
It isn’t that they have not come shut. They had been Copa America runners-up on 4 events, and on three of them, together with the final two, they misplaced out on penalty kicks. Then 5 years in the past, on the World Cup, they had been crushed by Germany in extra-time within the closing. And but there are Argentines of their mid-twenties who’ve by no means seen their nation raise a significant trophy, even if, since reaching puberty, they’ve had Messi lining up for them.
Sure, the elephant within the room: Messi. By the point he turns 32 on Monday, he could possibly be on his means residence from the 2019 Copa America. Some birthday, eh? As ever, the haters will use it to undermine his GOAT credentials, and, at the very least exterior of Argentina, it is going to present a distraction from a second consecutive summer season of failure, after the debacle of Russia 2018.
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The uncomfortable half is that this Copa America in some methods is following the same script to the World Cup a 12 months in the past. Argentina went into that event having appointed Jorge Sampaoli, a “system coach” who had received the Copa America with Chile and was purported to restrict the “Messi-dependency” with fastidiously crafted motion, urgent and crew play. Even his largest proponents — together with yours really — must admit that he might need been the proper man however on the mistaken time when he was named however, as soon as in Russia, changed into the mistaken man on the worst attainable time. Argentina had been chaotic and disorganized and no matter message he had by no means appeared to get via. By the point they crashed out, there have been murmurs that he was merely a bystander, with the senior gamers deciding lineup and ways.
His successor, Lionel Scaloni, was appointed with zero managerial expertise and simply two years’ price of assistant teaching (each of them, mockingly, with Sampaoli). The truth that he technically nonetheless on an interim contract — set to run out after the Copa America — says much more concerning the dysfunctionality and difficulties of the Argentine FA.
Scaloni has constructed a aspect for the Copa with an eye fixed in direction of Qatar 2022. He shifted away from acquainted veterans, known as up a great deal of newcomers — each children like Juan Foyth and guys like Matias Suarez, Milton Casco, Guido Pizarro and Rodrigo De Paul, lengthy missed by Argentina — and tried to stabilise the again line whereas including some creativity to the midfield.
Lionel Messi and Argentina have struggled to seek out an identification once more at Copa America 2019. Picture by Chris Brunskill/Fantasista/Getty Photos
However on the first hurdle — Colombia — Argentina appeared just like the aspect of previous. The opposition bought bodily — as you’d anticipate in a Copa America sport — and the Albiceleste misplaced the plot, happening 2-Zero. Maybe the extra troubling half was Scaloni’s response.
He made 4 modifications, together with dropping veterans Angel Di Maria and Sergio Aguero, and switched from Four-Three-Three to Four-Four-1-1, with Lautaro Martinez, making his first worldwide begin in a aggressive sport, main the road and Messi floating behind him. Paraguay have some high quality people and are usually not the uber-defensive stereotype of yesteryear beneath Eduardo Berizzo, however with regards to a South American conflict of attrition, they’ll greater than maintain their very own. Argentina struggled to create something for almost an hour, went a objective down on a counter-attack through which no midfield runner was tracked and, after Messi equalised from the spot, wanted a Franco Amani penalty save to flee with some extent.
Essentially the most worrying bit is that, other than a spell within the second half of the Paraguay sport when Sergio Aguero, on at half-time, mixed effectively with Martinez and Messi, they’ve proven little or no of their first 180 minutes of the event. And Scaloni’s choices — from the modifications in personnel and formations to the Di Maria for Martinez substitution within the second sport, which ended up blunting their assault — have virtually all backfired badly.
Qatar is the quintessential lure sport. It is easy to mock, however there is a cause they’re the defending Asian champions. They stormed again from two targets right down to seize some extent towards Paraguay and solely succumbed to a late, late objective towards Colombia of their second group contest. In each matches they’ve performed higher than the scoreline suggests.
Scaloni is aware of these could possibly be his final 90 minutes as Argentina boss. Given his response to the preliminary defeat, it is not unreasonable to anticipate one other 180 diploma change in method for Qatar within the hope of discovering no matter magic method it takes to get Argentina to play like Argentina. In any other case, the drought will likely be prolonged. And the truth that their previous two tournaments can have ended not in heartbreak just like the earlier ones however in humiliation will not make the ache any much less extreme.