Let’s go back to that Tuesday November 22nd. There is an unknown Argentina national team, powerless and apathetic against a minor rival. The bad debut portends a World Cup to suffer.
Let’s review the images of this Tuesday 13 December. There is a jubilant Argentine national team, arrogant in their play against a world runners-up. The victory in the semifinal allows them to dream big.
From Saudi Arabia to Croatia, the Argentina national team went from being a team on the brink of elimination to becoming a major finalist. It’s only been 20 days.
It wasn’t a miracle or a revolution. A World Cup requires quick decisions and pragmatism from coaches. Lionel Scaloni had no nostalgia for staggered when it seemed he was sinking, he didn’t even stop to think that he might have debts to the players who had played more and better during the 36-year unbeaten run that ended at the worst moment, in a World Cup. I had to act.
The national team began the Qatar adventure with a slap that made them tremble to the point of doubting their permanence at the World Cup. The unexpected defeat against Saudi Arabia shook the team both emotionally and footballingly. It left him on the ropes, on the edge of the precipice, and the reaction had to recompose the two aspects. The head and the game.
It had been a long time since the team had lost and it was logical to doubt its ability to react. The dizziness lasted throughout that second half against Arabia, but the uncertainty remained for much of the clash with Mexico. The risk was enormous. And there Messi appeared, as Scaloni says, a break the jar. Open the game, which is usually the hardest in extreme situations. He has put the responsibility and the pressure on his left foot and on his indomitable competitive pride. Her heart has awakened that of others.
The character of the team and its performances have grown hand in hand, but there have been fundamental changes to make it happen. The national team that beat Croatia 3-0 has little to do with the one that appeared on its debut, in the same Lusail stadium twenty days later.
In the names and in the Scaloni system it was allowed to change game by game, as if it were the last. At some point she could have been. It should be remembered that if they had lost against Mexico they would have been eliminated. It was the most critical moment, where the team’s emotional reaction seemed to be a priority. Scaloni made five changes between games. Those on the wings (Gonzalo Montiel for Nahuel Molina and Marcos Acuña for Nicolás Tagliafico) weren’t too transcendental because they are positions in which the four have alternated and would continue to do so.
But in addition, the manager signed Lisandro Martínez for Cristian Romero (who hadn’t fully recovered from an injury), Guido Rodríguez for Leandro Paredes and Alexis Mac Allister for Alejandro Gómez. Half team. A bit like Carlos Bilardo did after losing against Cameroon, again on his debut, but at the 1990 World Cup. With less drama: no one spoke of crashed planes on return.
That match against Mexico was when the team that is in the final today started showing up. During the match, which Argentina won 2-0, Enzo Fernández replaced Rodríguez and Julián Álvarez replaced Lautaro Martínez. The Benfica midfielder showed a remarkable personality and scored the second goal.
Enzo, Alexis and Julián would never leave the starting lineup again.
However, the system was undergoing changes as rivals changed, relying more on them than their own players. From the analysis of the other team, of the players who best adapt to the approach and of those who are in optimal conditions, the chosen formation emerges.
Scaloni’s wrist did not tremble to remove Lautaro Martínez, the second scorer of his cycle, or Leandro Paredes, the second with the most appearances, who arrived as undisputed starters.
Against Poland, Enzo Fernández was chosen as the sole central midfielder, looking for a clean exit. Mac Allister made his mark to his left and Julián Álvarez started for the first time. The scheme, a 4-3-3 that Scaloni denies, saw Ángel Di María open to the right as an attack, Messi now as a center forward with total freedom (like Johan Cruyff in Holland 1974) and Julián as a left winger with a tendency more to put diagonally than to overflow. It was already a profound change. Mac Allister and Álvarez transformed, in the only match in which Messi didn’t shout his goals.
Australia has seen a similar version. The medium established itself with the De Paul-Enzo-Mac trilogy, plus Papua Gómez launched on the left as a third striker, complementing Messi and Álvarez.
It didn’t last long, 4′ after the second half Scaloni put in Lisandro Martínez for Gómez, who has a problem, but mostly because there’s something he doesn’t like about how it works. And the variant changed the tactical draw: there the five-man defense had its debut in the World Cup, which was repeated from the start against the Netherlands in the quarter-finals.
Namely Molina, Romero, Nicolás Otamendi, Lisandro and Acuña. The means was the same, even if during the match Paredes came on for De Paul, due to a muscle overload on the Atlético de Madrid midfielder who had questioned him.
Five in the background, three midfielders and two forwards, Messi and Julián. Tactical success was to bring Nahuel Molina far ahead, something Messi was in charge of blessing with a notable assist, one more. And that Louis van Gaal was unable to solve.
Against Croatia, due to considering every game as if it were the last, the decision of the coaching staff was to return to the back four and reinforce the midfield, to counter the rival strength, whose strong point was to have Modric , Brozovic and Kovacic in that area. Enter Paredes in the eleven, with De Paul wide on the right, Enzo double five and Mac Allister on the left.
It wasn’t enough to take the ball away from the Croatians, who had 63 percent of it in the first 30 minutes, but it was enough to equalize the area. Julián Álvarez first and Messi then were tasked with breaking the whole Balkan strategy. Here another fundamental fact emerges, but from the point of view: Argentina didn’t beat themselves up for not having handled the ball, when they had it they knew what to do with it. The role is not always linked to possession.
With the 2-0 run, in the 16th minute of the second half, Scaloni opts again for the five-man line, inserting Lisandro Martínez in place of Paredes.
Tactical mobility, adjustments based on the opponent, zero fundamentalismcharacteristics of this technical staff led by Scaloni and in which the opinions and experience of Walter Samuel, Pablo Aimar and Roberto Ayala weigh.
A team that started skating has become a team that has learned very quickly, perhaps driven by the hard blow of its debut, to play in a World Cup so as not to fall into oblivion. A realistic, less romantic look. Because like it or not, the World Cup is played like this. From the lowest to the highest, almost to the extremes, if we review the worrying version against Arabia and the one that excites after beating Croatia. With intelligence and character, always; cheap, many times.
With Messi, obviously, an impossible Messi helping to explain all this resurrection. But he is a Messi wrapped up in a team that, without ceasing to make him essential, supports him and allows him to shine.
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Jason Root is the go-to source for sports coverage at News Rebeat. With a passion for athletics and an in-depth knowledge of the latest sports trends, Jason provides comprehensive and engaging analysis of the world of sports.