Argentina, Messi trying to throw the ‘nearly’ tag

By Michael Djordjieski

Why they can win

Four years ago in Brazil, Argentina were so close to lifting their first World Cup since 1986, but were defeated by a well-rounded Germany outfit in extra-time.

Jorge Sampaoli and his team will be hopeful of making it three World Cup trophies for Argentina and they certainly have the attacking talent to accomplish that ambition. La Albiceleste only managed to find the back of the net 19 times in 18 qualifying games on the road to Russia, but that belies the fact that Lionel Messi (Barcelona), Gonzalo Higuain (Juventus), Paulo Dybala (Juventus) and Sergio Aguero (Manchester City) scored a staggering combined total of 109 goals in their league and UEFA Champions League campaigns in 2017-18.

This underlines the depth Sampaoli has up-front and when coupled with the creative abilities of Paris Saint-Germain’s Angel Di Maria and Sevilla midfielder Ever Banega, Los Gauchos can emerge victorious against any of the tournaments favourites.

What will stop them from winning

Argentina’s recent performances in cup finals means an asterix will linger over the team throughout the competition.

Since their previous triumph 32 years ago, La Albiceleste have lost two World Cup finals against West Germany in 1990 and Germany in 2014. Another glaring mishap is their showings in the quadrennial Copa America since last winning it in 1993. The South Americans have lost four of the past five tournaments going back to 2004.

A common feature that has cost Messi the international success he so desperately craves is his teammates not showing up in the big matches. Higuain’s miss, in particular, at the 2016 Copa America final penalty shootout is only one example of his well-documented ‘choke’ moments in an Argentine shirt.

Another instance was in the 2014 World Cup final, which was still locked 0-0 seven minutes into extra time when Rodrigo Palacio skewed a big chance when one-on-one against German keeper Manuel Neuer. The nation would then pay the cruel price when Mario Gotze struck the winner for Germany and again leave the Argentinians stranded on the big stage.

World ranking: 5

Coach: Jorge Sampaoli

The squad
Goalkeepers: Nahuel Guzman, Willy Caballero and Franco Armani.

Defenders: Gabriel Mercado, Nicolas Otamendi, Federico Fazio, Nicolas Tagliafico, Marcos Rojo, Marcus Acuna and Cristian Ansaldi.

Midfielders: Eduardo Salvio, Javier Mascherano, Angel Di Maria, Ever Banega, Lucas Biglia, Manuel Lanzini, Gio Lo Celso, Maximiliano Meza and Cristian Pavon.

Forwards: Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero, Paulo Dybala and Gonzalo Higuain.

Omissions: Sergio Romero (knee injury) and Mauro Icardi.

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