The ‘Albiceleste’ ended a 36-year wait with the consecration in Qatar, their third world title. He did it with a brilliant Lionel Messi, who played at a fantastic level at 35 years of age. Around him, a team was built in a column behind his figure and that of the young coach Lionel Scaloni, who knew how to recover throughout the World Cup based on his football and his conviction.
Argentina is world champion after 36 years. It is the Argentina of Lionel Messi, who won the most coveted and most elusive title of his successful career.
But it is also the Argentina of Lionel Scaloni, the inexperienced coach who showed leadership and wisdom to lead a transition from the albiceleste team.
And it is also the Argentina of the heroic hands of Emiliano Martínez; of defensive solidity, with Nicolás Otamendi as quarterback; the deployment in the midfield of Rodrigo de Paul; of the redemption and resilience of Ángel Di María; of the young appearances that were baptized in a big way in a World Cup, such as Enzo Fernández, Alexis Mac Allister or Julián Álvarez.
In short, the consecration of a team that, collectively and without the great individualities of other teams, established itself as the best in the world.
The best version of Messi to fulfill his great dream
If Lionel Messi had to suffer many times on his way with the Argentine team (the one he chose to represent despite having settled in Spain from a very young age), for some time now, according to his own words, he has been able to enjoy wearing the Argentine shirt .
To a large extent, that enjoyment came from the hand of a team that proposed to accompany him in the last attempt to seek his great dream, the one that seemed almost impossible when four and a half years ago, France won 4-3 in the round of 16 of Russia 2018 against the chaotic Argentina of Jorge Sampaoli.
However, Messi was at the head of a renewed team, which allowed him to be the differential factor and not the only argument to seek the goal. And since he was 35 years old, with the Copa América behind him that allowed him to break the title drought, he seemed to feel free to complete his best World Cup.
Without the explosion of yesteryear, the Argentine star knew how to reinvent himself as a player on the entire attack front. Away from the area, he was a pitcher and point guard. Near the box, he brought out the finisher side of him. Hence, he added 7 goals (only overshadowed by the brilliant Kylian Mbappé, who added 8) and 3 assists in the World Cup, an unprecedented figure in a single tournament since a certain Diego Maradona in 1986.
And if Qatar had arrived without goals scored in direct elimination instances in the World Cups, he was also in charge of breaking down that barrier with goals in each of the instances: he scored against Australia (eighth), the Netherlands (fourth), Croatia ( semifinal) and France (final).
An excellent individual performance that allowed him to confirm, if there was any doubt, that he is the best player in history.
Lionel Scaloni, the unexpected leader who sits at the Menotti and Bilardo table
There are many moments that can be marked as the starting point of Argentina’s journey towards the world title. One of them, of course, was when Lionel Scaloni, one of Sampaoli’s assistants in Russia 2018, decided to take charge of the Albiceleste bench when nobody wanted to occupy a place that resembled an electric chair.
He did it as an interim, adding matches and confidence along the way. He was cruelly reviled by the public and the Argentine press, who even asked him if he had a coaching card. But, cultivator of the low profile, he added the most important support, that of the players who showed him their support in difficult moments.
Scaloni forged his credibility with work, accompanied by several former players such as Walter Samuel, Pablo Aimar and Roberto Ayala, connoisseurs of the national team, with their ups and downs.
In the technical direction, Scaloni was pragmatic to vary systems or names as the occasion required; motivator to always keep starters and substitutes in good spirits; and with the feet on the ground to calm the excessive fervor of the triumphs and the exaggerated disappointment of the defeats.
All these arguments were clearly reflected after the unexpected loss against Saudi Arabia in the debut of Qatar 2022, which ended an unbeaten 36-game streak and sowed doubts, at least outside the group. There, the coach did not escape a change of direction that left out pillars of his cycle such as Leandro Paredes or Lautaro Martínez to make room for youngsters with a better moment, such as Enzo Fernández, Julián Álvarez or Alexis Mac Allister (in the end, the best replacement for the injured Giovani Lo Celso).
The genuine tears after the victory on penalties against France and the hug he received from each of his players was the best reward for Scaloni, who joins César Luis Menotti and Carlos Salvador Bilardo as world champion Argentine coaches. And he can even afford to be the only one to have won both the World Cup and the Copa América.
‘La Scaloneta’, a team with its own nickname, supported by a great group
Messi on the field and Scaloni from the bench are the leaders of an Argentine team that, like few others, achieved identification on the pitch and also outside, with the demanding Argentine public, who even gave it a nickname: ‘La Scaloneta’.
And when giving their arguments after each victory, the Argentine players highlighted similar values, with “the group” as the main banner. The inward unity was a strength for the collective character to prevail over any individuality.
Together with Messi, Nicolás Otamendi and Ángel Di María (special mention for Sergio Agüero, Copa América champion and player ’27’ throughout the World Cup) they were the ‘veterans’ who taught the path of a group of young players, who They also found a take-off platform in the national team, as is the case with Leandro Paredes, Rodrigo de Paul, Cristian Romero, Lautaro Martínez and more. But also, in this World Cup, names such as Enzo Fernández, Alexis Mac Allister or Julián Álvarez made their place, who entered and never left the starting lineup.
In the DNA of ‘La Scaloneta’ there were distinctive features: suffocating pressure at times on all the lines of the field; voracity to attack, especially when recovering the ball on offense; rigor in defense and knowing how to resist the attacks of the rival; and, above all, character and mentality to recover from blows.
In this World Cup, Argentina knew how to suffer in order to enjoy. He did it in the unplanned loss to Saudi Arabia in the opener; in the difficult first half against Mexico, when a defeat gave him a dismissal too early from the tournament; in the closing of the 1-2 against Australia, or in the agonizing loss of differences in the score suffered against the Netherlands or France.
From each of those blows, which could have knocked down any other team, Argentina knew how to get up strong and scare away the ghosts of the past, of lost opportunities, of accumulated frustrations. He left all that behind to raise that World Cup again, elusive since 1986. The one that Diego Maradona raised, the one that now, finally, Lionel Messi raised.
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