It is often said, with good reason, that the World Cup starts in the round of 16. For that of direct elimination and because the best remain. It doesn’t happen here in Qatar, an exotic World Cup determined to surprise from the very first days with the most unexpected blows. Argentina was the protagonist, against Saudi Arabia, of the first warning that this World Cup would be strange.
The Selection, therefore, enters the phase of all or nothing having already tested his temper and nerves by playing off the edge. If he lost against Mexico, in his second presentation, he was excluded. It was an extreme situation and the team, Messi until that day, knew how to get their head above water.
And he strengthened himself mentally to then grow in football. The team’s version in the 2-0 win against Poland, with the introductions of Enzo Fernández and Julián Álvarez, plus the confirmation of Alexis Mac Allister, once again gave the national team the candidate’s manifesto.
But from one game to another many things can change. From the precedents against Mexico and Poland, to the awaited hours of the match against Australia, Argentina has gone from football doubts to physical doubts. Lionel Scaloni has complained vehemently, and rightly so, about the little rest his team will have to play against Australia.
The new victim is Ángel Di María, ruled out due to muscle overload. Secondary effect also of the stumbling block against Arabia, which prevented the team from deploying more efforts, as did, for example, France, Portugal or Brazil when they qualified for the third round.
Physical condition is of vital importance because Argentina will carry the weight and pace of the match against Australia. They will almost certainly have the monopoly of the ball, by their own decision and by their rival, who will focus on closing in defense and on the counterattack. He did it against Denmark and it was perfect.
Without Di María, and without a natural replacement like Nicolás González, Scaloni seems forced to change more than one name by name. He could even modify the tactical design.
Physical tiredness, for which the national team is also partly responsible for not playing well against Saudi Arabia, is now a bigger problem. Di María is not an isolated case. Several players showed signs of not being in the best shape in the opening two matches, although the squad’s footballing evolution made up for that feeling against Poland. Football is, among many things, a state of mind, it’s also contagious, and it can compensate for fatigue.
The head is also fundamental and Argentina in that area seemed to have had a winning group therapy which allowed him to avoid what in another team would have been a major crisis after the frustrating debut.
Australia will be the next move. This World Cup is showing us that no match is won before it has been played (the national team must have learned this by now) and that no rival can be excluded. In a good analysis, Rodrigo De Paul offered several clues as to what to expect from Graham Arnold’s team, who gave the surprise by eliminating Denmark.
From his role of balancing the team between attack and defence, De Paul envisions a game similar to that of Poland. Namely, with Australia locked down, no complexes. The current Atlético de Madrid midfielder has also stressed the speed of the rival wingers and the need to score in attack, in order not to get caught. Transitions are always fundamental in a team that wants to be a protagonist like the Argentine is. He also said that you have to be careful not to commit crimes near your area. Like Poland, Australia also has a height advantage over Argentina. In this case, one centimeter less. The Australians, with tall central defenders (Harry Souttar measures 1.98), have an average of 183cm, against 178 for Scaloni’s team.
All this, to avoid surprises and so that the national team can show recovered football against the Poles. It takes patience if the goal is delayed and Australia decide not to come out from behind. If so, dynamism and quick passing are needed, which has improved with the introduction of Enzo Fernández and Mac Allister. An imbalance is being sought, to which Julián Álvarez can contribute. We expect the best Messi, always. For Argentina to grow its game and its enthusiasm.