What's happened to Argentina?

Messi Argentina

Disastrous qualifying

In the two previous major tournaments Argentina have finished runners up. Losing to Germany in the 2014 World Cup final 1-0 and losing to their current manager, Jorge Sampaoli, Chile side in the final of the 2015 Copa America on penalties.

With this in mind qualifying for the World Cup should be no trouble. However, they made it very hard work. Five of the ten teams have the chance of qualifying in South America and with the likes of Venezuela and Bolivia in the federation the big nations nearly always qualify. This wasn't the case, Argentina had to wait until the last match day where they needed to win. They played Ecuador on the last match day and it took an inspired performance from Messi, scoring a hat-trick, for them to win 3-1 and qualify for this World Cup.

Lionel Messi Argentina
It took a Messi hat-trick against Ecuador to qualify on the last match day

During qualifying Argentina went through three managers. This means they haven't had any continuity and never had the same constant squad or tactics. As we've seen with the likes of Iceland and England this year team harmony and knowing each others roles is a huge part of tournament football.

Argentina were in with a chance of missing their first World Cup since 1970. The country continued to come out in their numbers to support but it was not always enough to rally the side. Argentina is a country where every decision divides opinion at the best of times. When it comes to matters of football the extremists come out. When Sampaoli came in he didn't get off to a great start and it became more important to start getting results than implementing his style of football. They limped over the line and strangely expectation began to build for this World Cup.

The Manager

The problems for this current Argentina squad started long before this World Cup. After back to back failures the Argentinian FA have gone through three managers, Gerardo Martino, Edgardo Bauza and Jorge Sampaoli. After Jorge Sampaoli's success with Chile he was the man on every club owners mind. He was heavily linked with the Chelsea job but failed to agree terms and Antoine Conte was given the job. Sampaoli eventually went to manage Sevilla.

Jorge Sampaoli Argentina
Jorge Sampaoli was appointed the Argentina manager in 2017

Jorge Sampaoli did a great job with Sevilla and it was a bit of a shock when he elected to go back to international football. However, it is a job that appealed to Sampaoli. He already has success at international level with Chile and now has the opportunity to do it with his country of birth.

New managers bring new tactics. Sampaoli has made a name for himself by getting his teams to press high and to have a lot of possession. He likes to play short and quick passes. With the players that Argentina have in their side this sounded great. However, it is yet to take effect. Aguero, Messi, Di Maria all play in a similar sort of way at their clubs but for some reason haven't been able to replicate it for their country.

Croatia comfortable beat Argentina 3-0

Nothing has really gone to plan for the manager. He has made poor decisions with team selection, tactics and preparation for matches. Argentina have an abundance of attacking talent, it is clear they cannot play five up front but when they are looking for goals it isn't always one of the superstars that comes on.

It's not just in attack where Sampaoli's made wrong decisions. He often picks starting eleven's that have no creativity in the midfield and opting for defensive midfielders. In their latest game against Croatia Mascherano was their most creativity midfielder. Ever Banega and Lo Celso are both players that can do the job. With out a creative midfield Argentina are lacking a link from the defence and attack. The Attack is already top heavy but if they can't get the ball to their forwards there is not much hope for the South Americas.

The Squad

A stable squad with strong core players who have been playing with each other for years is key when going to a major tournament. Argentina didn't even have a constant formation let alone a constant squad. Sampaoli came in part way through their qualification and again changed their tactics yet again. He's managed 13 games with Argentina but has used a massive 59 players in that time. When squad continuity is key, constant changes is bad for the harmony.

Argentina have always had an abundance of talent going forward. The problem with this is realistically Sampaoli can't fit them all into one starting eleven. With five of the best forward players in the world coming from Argentina it's hard to find the right combination. This hasn't been helped by Sampaoli not picking the likes of Dybala, Higuaín, Agüero Di Maria and Messi and opting for Argentina based players who haven't yet made it in Europe.

Otamendi Argentina
Argentina have been a shambles defensively

What Argentina have in attack they lack in defence. Despite Otamendi who is coming off a great season with Man City, they lack quality in central defence and their fullbacks are almost none existent. Since legendary fullback Zanetti retired no one has taken his place and at times Salvio, a winger, has had to play at right back due to lack of options.

A good goalkeeper gives the defence confidence and can be a big difference even if they don't have to make many saves. Sergio Romero has been the goalkeeper for a number of years now but was ruled out of the World Cup with a knee injury. This prompted Willy Caballero to be given the No.1 shirt. Caballero only had 3 caps for his country before the World Cup and had to build a relationship with the defenders quickly. His performance has been poor this World Cup and his mistake against Croatia just highlights Argentina so far in Russia.

Willy Caballero
Willy Caballero has been poor for Argentina

Coming to the World Cup with one of the best players in the world, Lionel Messi, and having some of the best forward players, expectations were growing in Argentina. However, Messi seems to have a negative effect on the side. Despite having the likes of Aguero, Higuain, Dybala in the team they seem to freeze and don't play their normal game. Messi is the vocal point of the team but he can't do it alone. He has been marked out of their opening two games which has given other players space but they've flopped along with the rest of the squad. Dybala has been quoted saying "it is hard to play with Messi". They've got too many players that play the same way and just end up in each others way.

Despite a poor World Cup so far they can still progress from their group, with a win against Nigeria. Getting into the round of sixteen and further will cover up some of the cracks for Argentina but the problems are there and Sampaoli is not expected to last much longer as manager.

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