On a run of 36 games unbeaten, few football fans, if any, would have predicted Argentina to rock up to Qatar and lose their opening game to 28/1 underdog Saudi Arabia. Argentina, led by Lionel Messi, took the lead through their star man merely 10 minutes into the tournament but came unstuck to a resilient Saudi Arabian side. With 69% possession and an xG of 2.39 to Saudi Arabia’s 0.29, Argentina dominated the game and were unlucky.
Despite the underlying numbers, Lionel Scaloni decided to make five changes to his side for the clash against Mexico. The likes of Marcos Acuna and Alexis Mac Allister made their way into the starting XI. The changes limited their opponents to just 3 shots for an xG of 0.09. Argentina reduced their number of forward passes in this second game, suggesting a more conservative approach. It took two pieces of brilliance to unlock the Mexicans, but this was a definitive fixture as Argentina settled in Qatar and showed bits of quality that little teams could compete with.
The final fixture of the group was where everything came together for Scaloni’s Argentina. Switching to a 4-3-3 for this fixture and starting starlet Enzo Fernandez, the Argentines crowded the midfield overrunning Poland’s midfield pairing from start to finish. With more shots than their first two games combined for an xG of 3.62. Completing 500 passes more than their opponents with a 91% accuracy on forward passes and 94% accuracy on passes to the final third, Argentina’s ball players dictated the game. I have already touched on Enzo Fernandez, but he shined yet again, completing 89 of his 93 passes anchoring the midfield.
So, Argentina are one of the form teams coming into the round of 16 and now face an Australian side buoyant after winning 2 of their 3 group games. This game was expected to be a walkover but so was the Saudi Arabia game on the opening day. Yet again, Messi gave his side the lead as Argentina dictated the pace of the game as they flexibly switched between a 4-3-3 and 4-4-2. The Argentines had their highest number of recoveries in the tournament in this game with 86 including 41 in the middle third, showing how their midfield showed energy levels to press onto one of the lesser skilled sides in the tournament. A killer deflection late on cost Argentina a clean sheet but overall this was another complete performance.
The quarter finals pitted Argentina against their first nation with a realistic chance at winning the whole thing. In arguably the game of the tournament, former Burnley striker Wout Weghorst netted a brace in the 83rd and 101st minute to send the game into extra time. It showed serious courage and guts for the South Americans to pick themselves up and eventually triumph on penalties. Matching the Dutch with a back 3, Argentina yet again showed their flexibility and crowded the middle of the pitch, not allowing Dutch playmakers such as Frenkie de Jong to dictate proceedings. The Dutch had 76 more passes than Argentina yet only 9 more forward passes and one progressive pass. After dominating the group games, Argentina were able to show the world how they can be resolute, something pivotal against the likes of Mbappe on Sunday.
One game away from the big stage for the first time in 8 years and man of the moment Lionel Messi stepped up again. An all time counter attacking masterclass saw Argentina walk into the final courtesy of Messi and Alvarez with 200 less passes and 3 less shots than their opponents. Sitting deep, the Argentines capitalised on any heavy touch with 45 interceptions to Croatia’s 29. The team performance was overshadowed by Messi’s magic in his assist for Alvarez’s second. Turning away from Gvardiol multiple times, Messi showed why he is the most dominant all round player at the tournament, form he will look to take into Sunday.
With the talent of Messi, Fernandez and Alvarez shining at the tournament Argentina were always going to have a shot at the trophy. Scaloni has shown he can adapt and I look forward to seeing what system he deploys against the French.
18+ please gamble responsibly. All odds displayed correct at the time of publishing.