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Argentina

Lionel Messi’s international retirement and the 2018 World Cup

The Copa America Centenario held in the United States earlier this summer appeared to be the chance for Lionel Messi to at last collect a senior trophy with Argentina.

He started the tournament on the bench due to an injury but then returned with a hat-trick against Panama and his form just improved as the tournament progressed. In the semi-final against the United States, he scored an exquisite free-kick that left Brad Guzan with no chance of getting anywhere near the ball. The match ended in a 4-0 win for La Albiceleste and secured their third successive major final appearance in as many years.

There were the familiar foes in the final. Chile and Argentina had clashed in the 2015 Copa America final after a cagey battle that was only settled after a penalty shootout – the Chileans secured their first major international trophy. Will La Roja claim their second major title in two years or will it finally be the year when Messi broke his international duck? They were the two main questions on everyone’s lip.

The final followed a similar pattern to the one in Chile a year ago. There was intense pressing from Chile in midfield with no Argentine player allowed any time on the ball to conjure anything meaningful. Messi was especially hounded whenever he was on the ball.

The similarities between the two finals became even clearer when Gonzalo Higuain fluffed a relatively easy chance. In fact, a very easy chance considering Higuain broke an over half a century-old Serie A goalscoring record last season, and did so with a splendid strike in the final game of the season. He came close but there was no cigar for him in the Copa America final.

The match ultimately went to the penalties, and Messi who had put his side ahead with the penalty kick of the shootout last year, fluffed his lines this summer. The final ultimately ended the same way it did last year – with Claudio Bravo hoisting the Copa America.

However, one thing was different. Messi was in tears after the final whistle. The man of reserved emotions couldn’t hold his tears back after yet another international disappointment and they came out flooding in the full glare of the unforgiving cameras.

But the biggest shock was to come later. Not long after the final whistle, the news came that Messi has announced his retirement from international football. Shocking. Messi just turned 29 during the Copa America and is clearly still in his prime.

Messi, speaking to media personnel afterwards, said that he just couldn’t take the disappointments any longer and his best efforts to deliver Argentina silverware have come to nought leaving him completely drained. He just couldn’t take it any longer.

Messi’s announcement means that he won’t be competing at the World Cup in Russia in two years’ time.

The lead up to the World Cup is already marred with many issues. From racism, to human rights violations, to widespread hooliganism, there are problems aplenty in Russia.

Perhaps one saving grace for the beleaguered World Cup would have been to see the world’s best players in Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in full glory. And the Russian authorities would be hoping that the action on the pitch would take attention away from the unsavoury happenings off it.

But it looks like the 2018 World Cup just can’t catch a break.

2018 FIFA World Cup contenders – Argentina

 

Argentina World Cup

Background

Argentina have won the FIFA World Cup twice. In 1978 and 1986. Plus they have been in the Final in 1930, 1990 and 2014. A huge and successful pedigree. How will they do in the 2018 World Cup in Russia?

Argentina’s World Cup History

Argentina are one of the countries with a proud history at the FIFA World Cup. They reached the final of the first ever world championship held in Uruguay in 1930, but came up short against the hosts to settle for the silver medal. Argentina had to wait 48 years for their next final, when they defeated the Netherlands 3-1 in extra time at home to be crowned the champions of the world for the first time in their history.

A teenager named Diego Maradona was making news in the domestic league at the time of the 1978 World Cup, but manager Cesar Luis Menotti – even after being a strong proponent of attacking football and a believer of free flowing football which allows individual expression within the bounds of the collective – decided not to select the youngster for the home tournament.

Maradona was integral part of the side at the 1982 edition, but the tournament ended in ignominy as the Argentines went home from the second round. In 1986 Maradona took Argentina to the zenith of world football for a second time in their history as he became the fulcrum of the side that defeated West Germany 3-2 in the final. The maverick genius was in inspired form in the quarter-final against England and scored two of the most historic in world football. He scored the legendary “hand of god” goal four minutes before the “goal of the century” to oust the bitter rivals England from the tournament in Mexico in 1986.

Four years later the South Americans were again contesting the final in 1990 against the West Germans, but this time the Europeans had the better of them as a late Andreas Brehme penalty sealed the game for them.

World Cup 2014 in Brazil

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It took 24 years for Argentina to reach the final again. They were up against Germany in last year’s World Cup in Brazil. Led by the genius of Lionel Messi, Argentina ground out narrow wins to reach the final and in an intense battle that lasted 120 minutes they were beaten by a moment of magic from Mario Gotze.

Argentina were managed at the time by Alejandro Sabella, but the manager moved on after the Brazilian journey and La Albicelste were under the guidance of Tata Martino for two years from 2014-2016.

The former Barcelona boss hasn’t been the most inspiring of managers and question marks are being raised regarding his suitability for the job after last summer’s runners-up finish in the Copa America and uninspiring performances in the early qualifying games for the 2018 World Cup.

Team selection at times has been baffling from Martino as well as the style of football his team have been playing. Argentina have been blessed with a plethora of attacking talents, but a prolific goalscorer like Paulo Dybala wasn’t even called for the Copa America in Chile.

Copa America Heartache in 2015 and 2016

Argentina’s actual tournament form has been excellent. Reaching their last three tournament finals. The World Cup Final of 2014 and then the Copa America Finals in both 2015 and 2016. That is three Finals in three major competitions.

The problem? They lost all three. And oh yes – they might have lost Messi.

The Messi Factor

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Messi has inspired Argentina to all three Finals. And if he does retire as he has said he will aged only 29, then Argentina are in serious trouble. Although he is nowhere near as inspiring for Argentina as he has been with Barcelona, he is still a talisman.

Destination Soccer believes Messi will return for the World Cup in Russia. Especially after Ronaldo claimed Euro 2016 with Portugal. We are not the only ones who think so. The former World Cup winning manager Cesar Menotti also believes Messi will reverse his retirement decision.

Argentina had many great attacking players at the last World Cup and their defence wasn’t believed to be their strongest part. However, the defence held up exceptionally well to help the side reach the summit clash.

The Future for Argentina at World Cup 2018

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Let’s look at the facts. Argentina are currently ranked No.1 in the world according to the FIFA Coca-Cola Rankings.  They have reached the Final of their last three major tournaments. They have a huge football pedigree and are widely fancied. Destination Soccer readers in the Who will win the World Cup 2018 poll put Argentina by far the favorites. And the bookmakers put Argentina as mostly joint second favorites behind Germany to win. And at a similar level to Brazil and France. But ahead of Spain and Portugal.

Most of the 2014 forward line will be available for the 2018 edition and there will definitely be some quality additions in the form of Dybala and Erik Lamela amongst others.

Significantly, the rise of defensive midfielder Matias Kranevitter could hold the key for Argentina in two years’ time. He will soon be plying his trade for Atletico Madrid and his style is said to be in the mold of long-serving Barcelona defender Javier Mascherano.

Argentina have a great core of players who should be challenging for ultimate glory in Russia. However, Martino doesn’t seem to be the right man to take them there and the fact he has resigned from the post of national team coach means that Argentina could be even better positioned to win the World Cup if they can get a manager who can get the tactics right. Marcelo Bielsa is available after his two days in charge of Lazio!

Follow Destination Soccer’s FIFA World Cup 2018 Coverage.