Fri, 03 Feb 2023

DOHA, 16th December 2022 (WAM) -- FIFA reviewed the victorious march of the Tango since their shock defeat in Qatar 2022's opening match, going all the way down to their much-anticipated final on Sunday, with their talisman stealing all the limelight.

"It began with a shock defeat against Saudi Arabia but Argentina have been inspired by Lionel Messi to reach the final of the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, " said a report published by FIFA on its WC's portal.

"We look at how Messi and Co have become a major force to be reckoned with
There was a period around Diego Maradona's pomp when Argentina appeared poised to assume long-term residence at the apex of world football," added the report.

Successive FIFA World Cup finals under Carlos Bilardo arrived not long after the rousing, ticker-tape decorated home tournament triumph of 1978. The idea of Argentina as nearly men would have sounded preposterous back in those heady days.

But the world champions of 1986 - and Copa America winners in 1991 and 1993 - gave way to Argentina teams that repeatedly tumbled at the final hurdle. Four South American finals they reached between 2004 and 2016, and they lost the lot. The defeats in 2015 and 2016 were both inflicted by Chile on penalties, hot on the heels of Argentina falling short against Germany in the 2014 FIFA World Cup final.

It was illustrative of the mental toll of all those near misses that even serial top dog Lionel Messi fleetingly wondered if a ruinously pessimistic outlook was irreversibly entrenched. "For me, the national team is over," he said in the wake of the second Chile heartbreak. "I've done all I can. It hurts not to be a champion."

Messi rowed back on his international retirement within two months. "I love this country and this shirt too much," he explained, tellingly adding: "We need to fix many things in Argentinian football, but I prefer to do this from inside and not criticise from outside."

Whatever the endemic issues Messi sighted in his country's football, the long and short of it was Argentina needed to relocate the winning touch. They plotted an unsteady route to a losing final at Italy 1990, then atoned for that ultimate blow with back-to-back continental titles. After that, nothing.
There was no hint of Argentina bucking the modern trend in Russia four years ago. Jorge Sampaoli's team stumbled through their group and the 4-3 scoreline in a Round of 16 loss to France did not reflect the eventual champions' superior skill, speed and togetherness.

"Why, then, do Argentina enter the 2022 World Cup's showpiece match against the same opponents with more than a puncher's chance? Why have we reached a point where ex-England defender Rio Ferdinand reckons "Lionel Messi and Argentina will be sitting there licking their lips" after watching France overcome Morocco in the last four?"

Ferdinand pointed to an area of the field - France's left flank - where he feels Argentina can make merry. But without La Albiceleste's renewed belief and tenacity, the French wouldn't have cause to lose sleep over any minor fault.

Lionel Scaloni, appointed shortly after the 2018 World Cup, has moulded a balanced and industrious team that efficiently couples discipline with flair. There was familiar frustration at the outset of Scaloni's reign when a 2019 Copa America semi-final was lost to Brazil. But in the same competition last year, Scaloni and Messi finally, crucially, obtained the hardware the nation craved.
That they shed the monkey from their back by beating Brazil in the Maracana Stadium provided an additional strand of confidence. Argentinian football felt good about itself again. A degree of swagger and arrogance - in the positive sense - were on show when Argentina swept aside Italy at Wembley in June to win the Finalissima 2022.

"I'm grateful to all the people who wanted me to continue playing with Argentina," added Messi on that day he reneged on his retirement pledge. "Hopefully we can give them something to cheer about soon."

How those impassioned supporters following Argentina in Qatar are cheering now, wowed by a team that demonstrated courage by the bucketload to recover from the humbling experience of surrendering a 36-match unbeaten run against unfancied Saudi Arabia in their opening World Cup match.

Argentina have ominously moved through the gears and, in the view of former Manchester United midfielder Roy Keane, profited from essentially participating in a knockout tournament since their second game. By the time Croatia were overwhelmed in the semi-final, there was an unmistakable chutzpah about Argentina's football.

Their fearless young striker, Julian Alvarez, has four goals to add to Messi's five. There is imagination and intelligence in abundance from Alexis Mac Allister, while the midfield trio of Enzo Fernandez, Rodrigo de Paul and Leandro Paredes - restored against Croatia when the adaptable Scaloni switched to a conventional back four - provide brains and legs and thrust and knowhow.

This is a visibly united team: sidelined players celebrate goals as if they've scored themselves and the Saudi Arabia upset kindled a collective motivation to disappoint those ready to savour Argentina's demise.

"Everyone wanted us to lose," said Emiliano Martinez of the victory over Mexico that put the show back on the road. "It's us against the rest of the world." Whether the hunger for Argentina misery was real or imagined, it added one more layer to the multiple factors spurring on this team.
Goalkeeper Martinez, another asset, saved twice in the quarter-final penalty shootout victory over the Netherlands. Tossing away a two-goal lead towards the end of that match would likely have triggered thoughts of 'here we go again', were it not for the tangible success of the past 18 months.

Argentina have rediscovered the art of winning and Messi is in the goals and on a mission, the report concluded.

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