Argentina’s “Scaloneta” laid the foundation for Lionel Messi and Co. for the world championship title

There will be few changes when Argentina face Honduras and Jamaica in the forthcoming friendlies Albiceleste Team that has not lost a game for more than two years. And why should there be? Since the 2019 Copa America semi-final loss to Brazil, Lionel Scaloni’s side have gone 33 games unbeaten, clinched the 2021 Copa for their first senior title since 1993, qualified for the 2022 World Cup in style and defeated European champions Italy in a parade match at Wembley in June -Stadion.

This would definitely be remarkable. But it’s almost off the scale of the extraordinary if you remember two things. First, that Argentina was an absolute shambles at the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Second, rookie coach Lionel Scaloni was pretty much made stop-gap caretaker because he met the only criteria at the time — he wasn’t a huge financial risk. And now his team in Argentina is referred to as “the Scaloneta” – the house he built.

– Stream on ESPN+: LaLiga, Bundesliga, MLS, more (USA)

Argentina previously had a long-term bet with high-profile, dynamic Jorge Sampaoli. It was a disaster that should have been predicted. Argentina just didn’t have the fast defenders and sure-footed goalkeepers you need to play the Sampaoli way. The aging squad hobbled away from Russia – where they flirted with first-round elimination. With a huge payout, Sampaoli was fired. Money was tight, so Scaloni came in. He didn’t speak like a janitor.

“[World Cup finalists] France and Croatia stole the ball and were able to shoot in 3 or 4 seconds,” was his conclusion after Russia. “That’s how football works, it’s the football I like and now is the moment to introduce that in Argentina. We’re going to be more direct and vertical.”

There was an obvious problem with this approach. It’s not a game model that goes well with Lionel Messi. It started badly. Scaloni’s first competitive game was the 2019 Copa America opener against Colombia. Argentina was completely stretched out and easily beaten en route to a 2-0 loss. The remainder of the competition consisted of Argentina’s attempts to approach a more viable game idea. You played well in that semi-final loss to Brazil. But with Messi plus two forwards – Lautaro Martinez and Sergio Aguero – they were top-heavy and too easy to hit on the counterattack.

However, Messi was clearly on board. For the first time in his career, playing for the national team seemed to be the most important thing in his career. To his Argentinian teammates he seemed a distant figure, happy in his own little world. Now he was a more vocal, encouraging figure, integrated into the group like never before. And when the World Cup qualifiers came, Argentina wasn’t vertical and direct. They formed a possession-based side where the midfield trio of Leandro Paredes, Rodrigo De Paul and Giovani Lo Celso were able to set the rhythm of the game and put Messi close to goal. It’s the most coherent collective idea Argentina had during Messi’s long international days. After the song, once the game opens – like the second half against Italy at Wembley in June – they’re a joy to watch.

The defense has long been a central problem area. In Russia that was certainly four years ago and in Qatar it will certainly come under pressure at times. But since June last year, when goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez and centre-back Cristian Romero joined the team, there has been a renewed confidence. The statistics are certainly impressive. Argentina have conceded just two goals in their last 12 games.

September 23 in Miami and Jamaica four days later in New Jersey.

It would be a surprise if Honduras in Miami on Sept. 23 and Jamaica four days later in New Jersey worsened those numbers. But that’s hardly the point. These are just warm-ups, designed to bring the group together and make late changes. For example, it could be interesting to see if Brighton’s Alexis Mac Allister gets another chance in the lower midfield role he played in his last game, a friendly against Estonia in June.

But even a shock defeat in these FIFA dates will not derail the Scaloni project and most likely will not affect confidence as Argentina builds for the World Cup. Scaloni knows his team have time to lose – he cites Italy as an example, where a long unbeaten streak wasn’t good enough to bring them to Qatar. Faced with the choice between a long unbeaten run and winning the World Cup on December 18, there is no doubt which Scaloni would choose. Maybe he can have both.

Leave a Comment