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Sunday, November 27, 2022

Scaloni against Mexico: Respect historical players or change the script

DOHA ( Associated Press) — The image of Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni, his grave and anxious face the day after his World Cup debut, is a true reflection of the state of the team that arrived in Qatar and finished as favorites. In the edge in a matter of minutes.

Argentina, two-time world champions, suffered their worst ever defeat, falling 2-1 against Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, the first team from the Asian confederation to beat a South American team at this stage.

In an unimaginable scenario, Argentina could soon be at risk of saying goodbye to the World Cup if it loses to Mexico at Lusail Stadium next Saturday in what looks to be the same scene of a failed debut.

Scaloni, in his first World Cup experience, now faces the challenge of lifting the spirits of his coaches, who are unbeaten in defeat after stringing together a 36-game unbeaten streak. And on the other hand, to recover the strengths that have led the team to win the Copa America in 2021, the first title in 28 years, and to be regarded by rivals as one of the favorites in Qatar.

Intensity, pressure, defensive order and firepower were attributes that were absent against the Saudis, largely because many of Scaloni’s normal soldiers did not arrive in good condition upon debut.

After the failed premiere, the coach said, “There is no other option but to get up and move on.” “We continue to think in the same way. Before the game they gave us as favourites, but these things can happen in the World Cup. You have to work on the aspects that didn’t go well.”

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In just three days, the coach will have to define whether he respects the ownership of the losers, including several who won the historic continental final against Brazil at the Maracana Stadium, or reshuffle. Both options carry their own risk.

At least five regular starters were targeted for poor performance.

—Defender Cristian Romero scored an equalizer for the Saudis early in extra time.

— Full-backs Nahuel Molina and Nicolás Tagliafico for their small contributions in attack against an opponent who systematically pounced on forwards past their end line to leave Argentina’s attackers in an advanced position.

Midfielders Rodrigo de Paul and Leandro Paredes, who set the pulse of the team. First for his intensity and second for the quality of his passes. No one completed the work.

Romero, who was coming out of a long inactivity due to injury, will be replaced by one of Manchester United’s figures, Lisandro Martínez, the same change that the coach introduced during the game.

Gonzalo Montiel for Molina and Marcos Acuña instead of Tagliafico will be variants on the sides.

While De Paul had a poor season playing football, Paredes came into the game with little rhythm due to a tear he suffered in October and felt that the game was physically taxing on him. Guido Rodriguez is his usual replacement, but Scaloni will lean towards Enzo Fernandez, who came in for Paredes before the Saudis.

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Another version in the pipeline is the departure of Alejandro Gomez from an irregular party for Alexis McAllister.

In offense, captain Lionel Messi and Lautaro Martinez are fixed. It remains to be seen whether Scaloni confirms veteran Angel Di Maria, who arrived at the World Cup with little competition due to a muscle injury. This could include Manchester City’s young talent Julian Alvarez, who played last minute against the Asians.

The question is whether Scaloni can put the onus of such a game on inexperienced players like McAllister, Fernandez or Alvarez.

Former Argentina midfielder Maximiliano Rodríguez, Mexico’s executioner in the 2006 World Cup round of 16 with his memorable left-footed volley, has been both the national team’s top performer and rookie “ready, there could be another”. There is experience but, someone who is a national team player is ready for everything”.

World Cup records show that Mexico has never beaten Argentina in three World Cup matches in 1930, 2006 and 2010.

“If we want to win, if we want to be world champions, it is good to have setbacks,” said goalkeeper Emiliano Martínez. “A stumble is not a fall. It sucks, but Saturday is our first World Cup final.”

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