Argentina facing big decision ahead of Copa America

Argentina facing big decision ahead of Copa America

Manuel Veth –

Argentina put forward a meek performance at the 2018 World Cup, barely edging out of the group stage before being eliminated by France in the round of 16. Their failure resulted in the departure of manager Jorge Sampaoli at the end of the competition, with Lionel Scaloni tasked with taking the team forward, beginning with the Copa America in 2019.

La Albiceleste have been unable to get over the line in the competition, despite having the best player in the world at their disposal. Even with Lionel Messi, Argentina have failed to win the Copa America since 1993, finishing runners-up in four out of the last five tournaments. Messi has endured a frustrating time representing his country, with his penalty miss against Chile in the final of the Copa America Centenario arguably being the worst moment of his career.

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Messi has not committed to playing for Argentina, leaving his international future in the balance. Without their superstar, the pressure will be on Lionel Scaloni to get his team firing for the competition, being backed in the Betway odds, as of December 10, 2018, at 5/2 to triumph in Brazil in 2019. There are ample amounts of talent even without Messi, and there will be a high level of expectation for La Albiceleste to get over the line this time around.

Argentina – Messi Not At His Best

It was clear in the 2018 FIFAWorld Cup that Messi was not operating at the peak of his powers. Barcelona did rely heavily on the forward to lead their charge to the La Liga crown as well as the Copa del Rey. He played 54 games, scoring 45 goals for the Catalan club, allowing him to enter the tournament with momentum. However, Messi was not right from the off, missing a penalty in his side’s opener against Iceland that cost his team two valuable points.

 Lionel Messi of Argentina looks dejected during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Round of 16 match between France and Argentina at Kazan Arena on June 30, 2018 in Kazan, Russia. (Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images)

Lionel Messi of Argentina looks dejected during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Round of 16 match between France and Argentina at Kazan Arena on June 30, 2018 in Kazan, Russia. (Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images)

The whole team were off the boil against Croatia as the would-be finalists cruised to a comfortable 3-0 victory. Messi rose to the occasion in the must-win game against Nigeria, scoring a brilliant goal to put Sampaoli’s men ahead. Victor Moses equalised from the penalty spot to put the pressure on. Argentina needed a goal to salvage their tournament, and they got it through Marcos Rojo. It was only a brief stay of execution for La Albiceleste. Messi and company were blown away by France, with the 4-3 scoreline not reflecting the tone of the round-of-16 contest.

Despite his immense pedigree, Messi has not been at the peak of his powers in an Argentina shirt. He won the Golden Ball in the 2015 Copa America, although he spurned the award. Unlike his time at Barcelona, he has not had a signature moment. It could have come in the 2014 World Cup when Argentina did reach the final. However, he appeared to have burned out in the latter stages before his team succumbed to an extra-time defeat to Germany. Whether he has another appetite for another run in a major tournament remains to be seen.

Argentina – A Future Without Messi

Messi has not declared his intention for future selection, although he did request to be left out of the September friendlies. Should he retire, it would naturally leave a void. However, Argentina are blessed with a number of quality players in the final third. No one is ever going to be able to replace Messi, but between Mauro Icardi, Paulo Dybala and Lautaro Martinez there is ample talent coming through the ranks. Icardi has been one of the most potent strikers in Europe, although it has not translated to success for Inter Milan. Incredibly, the forward has only played eight times for his country, scoring one goal.

He has the potential to be the key player moving forward for Argentina, with Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain perhaps looking to extend their club careers. Dybala is another player that has seen limited action for La Albiceleste. He has been a star for Juventus in their dominance of Serie A over the last five years. Dybala is still only 25 but has made 18 appearances, scoring one goal for his country. Argentina have not seen the best of the talented duo and their time could be at hand in the 2019 Copa America. The older guard have failed to bring success to the national team and unless Messi eyes one more attempt at glory; it will be time for Scaloni to usher in a new era for football in Argentina.

Manuel Veth is the owner and Editor in Chief of the Futbolgrad Network. He also works as a freelance journalist and among others works for the Bundesliga and Pro Soccer USA. He holds a Doctorate of Philosophy in History from King’s College London, and his thesis is titled: “Selling the People’s Game: Football’s transition from Communism to Capitalism in the Soviet Union and its Successor States,” which is available HERE. Originally from Munich, Manuel has lived in Amsterdam, Kyiv, Moscow, Tbilisi, London, and currently is located in Victoria BC, Canada.  Follow Manuel on Twitter @ManuelVeth.