Well-knit Argentina on the fast track to success

17 Nov 2021
  • Earliest Argentina have ever qualified for a FIFA World Cup™

  • Coach Lionel Scaloni has created a solid spine and rejuvenated the side

  • Aim now is to continue their development and go for glory in Qatar

Argentina have qualified for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ with five games to spare, the earliest they have ever advanced to the world finals since the current qualifying system was introduced in South America, in the preliminaries for France 1998. Though La Albiceleste invariably start qualifying campaigns as favourites, few expected them to progress to Qatar so smoothly, as they built on the transitional process embarked on by coach Lionel Scaloni when he took on the job.

In bringing that transition to a successful conclusion, Scaloni has fashioned a solid core of players and brought in the new blood needed for the challenges that lie ahead. And though he has rarely fielded the same XI, it has not prevented Argentina from performing consistently.

With Lionel Messi as their undisputed leader, Scaloni has strengthened a side packed with players capable of taking some of the burden of getting results from the captain’s shoulders.

FIFA.com looks at these and other factors in Argentina’s charge to Qatar 2022.

Messi at one with fans

If there was one thing that Messi had yet to achieve in an Argentina shirt, it was a genuine connection with the fans. There can be no question of the love between them now, however, a love that has only grown since the Copa America was won in Brazil. That long-awaited triumph has triggered more success in the qualifying competition, with the bond between skipper and supporters giving the whole team a lift.

It is no exaggeration to say that Messi has rarely looked so at ease in the team. He also has the full support of his team-mates, as Alejandro Gomez confirmed in a recent interview with FIFA.com: “We want to give Messi the chance to win the World Cup.”

The No. 10 remains a hugely influential figure on the pitch and is the side’s top scorer in the Qatar 2022 preliminaries, with six goals from 12 games.  

Key performers in key positions

Argentina have emerged from their transitional process with their spine strengthened. Goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez and central defender Cristian Romero have established themselves as defensive mainstays in a side that has now gone six qualifying matches without conceding.

Setting the tempo in midfield is Rodrigo De Paul, one of the players charged with the task of mitigating the effects of Argentina’s dependency on Messi. The Atletico Madrid man’s consistency and dynamism have made him an undisputed first choice.

Up front, Lautaro Martinez might lack the star billing of his team-mates but his stats more than justify Scaloni’s faith in him. The team’s second-highest scorer on the road to Qatar 2022, he has also served up four assists, a tally only bettered by Giovani Lo Celso’s five.

Closing the generation gap

When it comes to helping the younger members of the squad to bed in, the 34-year-old Messi can count on the support of Nicolas Otamendi, one year his junior and a first-choice since the get-go, and Angel Di Maria, who is also 33 and has regained his place in the side thanks to an excellent run of form.

MONTEVIDEO, URUGUAY - NOVEMBER 12: Angel Di Maria of Argentina celebrates after scoring the first goal of his team during a match between Uruguay and Argentina as part of FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Qualifiers at Campeón del Siglo Stadium on November 12, 2021 in Montevideo, Uruguay. (Photo by Ernesto Ryan/Getty Images)

Also with roles to play in that regard are Marcos Acuna (30) and Alejandro Gomez (33), while the likes of Lo Celso (25) and Joaquin Correa (27) have plenty of experience to call on already, despite their relative youth.

Between them, they have helped rising stars such as Nahuel Molina (23), Nicolas Gonzalez (23, two goals), Exequiel Palacios (23) and Julian Alvarez (21) find their feet at international level. All four have made valuable contributions during the campaign, consolidating their places in the squad ahead of Qatar 2022.

The numbers that matter

27 - The number of matches that Scaloni’s side have now gone unbeaten. Under his tenure, Argentina have yet to lose in the current World Cup qualifying competition, recording eight wins and five draws in their 13 matches. 

MONTEVIDEO, URUGUAY - NOVEMBER 12: Emiliano Martinez of Argentina waves to fans during warm up prior to a match between Uruguay and Argentina as part of FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Qualifiers at Campeón del Siglo Stadium on November 12, 2021 in Montevideo, Uruguay. (Photo by Raúl Martínez-Pool/Getty Images)

4 - The number of unwanted runs that Argentina have ended away from home during the qualifiers, winning in Bolivia for the first time in 15 years, in Peru for the first time in 16, in Venezuela for the first time in 14, and in Uruguay for the first time in 12.

9 - The number of players who have scored Argentina’s 20 goals in the qualifying campaign to date: Messi (6), Martinez (5), Joaquin Correa (2), Nicolas Gonzalez (2), Angel Correa (1), De Paul (1), Di Maria (1), Leandro Paredes (1), and Romero (1).

540 - The number of minutes Argentina have gone without conceding in the qualifiers, since Venezuela’s Jefferson Soteldo converted a 94th-minute penalty on Matchday 10.