World Cup fever has already hit the football fanatics across the globe and the excitement has relieved the fans from a tedious mid-season break. Nations who have made it to the finals will be waving their flags high, especially the likes of Iceland, Egypt, Panama, Tunisia, Morocco who defied the odds despite limitations and certain constraints. Big guns Italy, Netherlands, Chile, and the USA surprised all by failing to make it to Russia whereas, like every other edition, the football giants Brazil, Argentina, France, Spain and reigning champions Germany are entering the competition as favourites.
Argentina, the runners-up of the previous edition of this prestigious football event, had a traumatic run during the qualifiers but clinched a place in the finals following a 3-1 victory over Ecuador in the final game. Jorge Sampaoli, the manager who won Chile the Copa America 2015 title, was appointed as the Albiceleste gaffer in order to restore the lost pride by winning a silverware, however, everything relies on the iconic Lionel Messi as the fans are rooting for their idol to guide a depleted side towards a World Cup glory.
The selection dilemma caused massive controversy when the gaffer decided to snub in-form Mauro Icardi from the travelling squad for not being in Messi’s good books and the Inter Milan striking sensation (who netted 29 league goals this term) was not recalled even after Manuel Lanzini’s heartbreaking ACL injury during a practice session. Sampaoli rather opted for River Plate veteran Enzo Perez and it is to be seen now whether the big decision turns out to be brave enough for the South American football giants.
Although the manager chose to field his boys in a 3-4-2-1 setup during the decisive qualifier fixtures, they were also tried out in 4-2-3-1 as well as 4-4-2 on several occasions. A couple of friendlies got cancelled of late but a humiliating 6-1 defeat to Spain raised many question marks. A 4-0 win over minnows Haiti must have uplifted their spirit to some extent, however, it is still unclear how Sampaoli will field them during the main event.
A 4-2-3-1 seems viable considering their current status where Gonzalo Higuain or Sergio Aguero will be played as the ‘number 9’. Lionel Messi and Angel Di Maria will be operating from the wide roles whereas Giovani Lo Celso might start in his preferred central midfield slot. Éver Banega and Lucas Biglia should be exploited as deep-lying playmakers who will also shield a likely ‘back four’ of Nicolas Tagliafico, Nicolas Otamendi, Federico Fazio and Gabriel Mercado. Sergio Romero’s injury absence is a massive setback for the Albiceleste which might see veteran Willy Caballero protect their goal.
The gaffer will have a tough task to select his best XI from a star-studded squad but the above-mentioned options and formation should be preferred to field a balanced line-up.
Lionel Messi, as always, will be the main man who is capable of guiding them towards glory all alone, however, there are exciting prospects like Giovani Lo Celso and particularly Paulo Dybala – the 24-year-old Juventus attacker who has every possibility to establish himself as their ‘next-gen’ superstar. Yet it depends on how Sampaoli uses the young gun but, as things stand, Dybala might be handed a crucial role as a ‘super-sub’ throughout the contest.
The team did not seem to be well-settled during the recent outings, but the manager is experienced enough to deliver with inexperienced names and should find a perfect balance at the earliest to showcase sheer dominance. They will always be considered as the title contenders until Messi is there, but the job will be colossal to make it beyond the quarter-finals unless they uplift their performance upon entering the main event.
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