The Argentine team, led by Lionel Messi, was crowned world champion, beating France on penalties
LatinAmerican Post | Santiago Gómez Hernández
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The FIFA World Cup returned to South America. 20 years after Brazil had won its fifth World Cup, Argentina once again brings the soccer spotlight to this side of the world. The 3rd title of the albiceleste, represents the tenth in all of South America, counting the 5 cups in Brazil and two more in Uruguay.
To know the keys to the victory of the southerners, it is not enough to know that they had (today possibly undisputed) the best player in history for many: Lionel Messi. Beyond the incredible tournament that the "10" achieved, there were 5 other keys that allowed the Rosario to lift the cup and finally fulfill the dream of making Argentina champion 36 years after Diego Maradona did the same in Mexico in 1986 .
1.A Technician With Process
Despite the fact that Lionel Messi had managed to win every possible title with Barcelona, even obtaining a sextet (for now a record for any European team) with his team had been another story. No more than a few youth titles, with the senior team he carried the weight of not having lifted any important cup. A World Cup final and 2 Copa América, tarnished the memory of Messi with Argentina. At the time, the 7-time Ballon d'Or winner had even considered not playing for Argentina anymore. Frustration seemed to be the adjective that represented Messi's passage in FIFA tournaments.
But, just after a World Cup failure (losing in the quarterfinals against France, who would later be crowned champion in 2018), Argentina began to consider the possible replacement of the coach. The name of Lionel Scaloni, a young coach who led the under 20 team, was the one to manage the majors on an interim basis while someone of greater carats was located. However, since his arrival he left good impressions and the confidence of the players in the coach increased. This is why this “interim” left Argentina with 3 important titles: Copa América, Finalísima and World Cup.
For Scaloni, the participation of former professional players in the coaching staff was key to victory. Walter Samuel and Pablo Aimar were essential elements in the confidence of the Argentine superstars and the fans in general. Finally, Scaloni achieved what unfortunately neither Diego Maradona, Alejandro Sabella, Sergio Batista, Gerardo Martino, Jorge Sampaoli, Alfio Basile, José Pekerman and many others did: the third world cup for Argentina.
2. Union: the Key for the Team and for the Country
Although it is true that the ghost of past failures was always latent, this World Cup was special from the beginning. The fans and the players showed a halo of union that gave to get excited. As the song that the Tsetse Fly reinterpreted said: “boys, now we are excited again”.
It is true that the previous Copa América that the Scaloneta won at the Maracana, the victory in the Finalísima against the Eurocup Champion (Italy) or the record 36 games without losing before the Cup in Qatar augured a good performance in the World Cup. The same players seemed like a family. The photos, messages, and videos that they communicated were of an unusual union in a country that is normally divided by politics, by soccer's clubs or by the simple fear of “mufa” (or bad omen). Messi was surrounded this time not by “friends” or “colleagues” but by fans who grew up watching him succeed in Europe and who were willing to give their souls for their captain to lift the trophy.
3. Resilience and Mental Strength
But the road was not roses. As Argentines have become accustomed to, there is no happiness without prior nervousness. A World Cup achieved by riding all the games, scoring goals and playing beautifully, would not be a complete victory. That was precisely what both fans and staff faced. The unexpected defeat on the first date against the "weak" Saudi Arabia augured the worst. All that illusion and skepticism took the heads of several fans, but the team was aware of their potential and their dreams. He reminded them that the World Cup is won by fighting and with the knife between the teeth. That is why later, with commitment and self-respect, Argentina defeated Mexico, Poland, Australia, the Netherlands (on penalties), Croatia and, now, France.
Even that same mental strength was necessary so that, during the last game, they knew how to recover from adversity. After leading 2-0 in the first half and having the victory less than 10 minutes away, two goals from Kilian Mbappé brought back the specter of defeat. They seemed to leave the Argentines breathless, who on the field felt the emotional blow that became physical. A tie that extended the decision to extra time. Argentina knew how to recover and the idol of all time, Messi, put his team ahead again at minute 108, but the soccer gods insisted on making everyone more nervous and the young Parisian promise knew how to convert the penalty awarded by a Gonzalo Montiel's hand. It was here where Argentina understood that it was again the penalties, which gave them the step to the semifinals against the Netherlands, which would once again decide the future. It was here where the Argentines demonstrated mental strength, quality, and self-esteem to not miss any charge and to be able to celebrate from the 11 steps.
4. A Good Goalkeeper Wins Titles
Lionel Messi and Kilian Mbappé demonstrated what only those touched by God know how to do: a dream game, scoring 2 and 3 goals respectively. However, just behind these immense presentations, Emiliano "el Dibu" Martínez was gigantic. He showed why he is the goalkeeper that Messi needed. At minute 120 +2, when there were only a couple of sighs left to go to penalties, the Aston Villa goalkeeper saved a close-range shot from Kolo Muani with his left foot. The entire French bank celebrated it, even everyone in the stadium was celebrating (or regretting) the goal, all except one: Martínez. The goalkeeper brought out what would be the victory for France and showed his team that, in penalties, he would give them a hand. His stop at Kingsley Coman was decisive for the title.
It was also the same Martínez who against the Netherlands knew how to stop the charges Van Djik and Steven Berghuis in the semifinals. But Martínez had also shown it when he saved the penalties of Davinson Sánchez, Yerry Mina and Edwin Cardona in the semifinal of the Copa América against Colombia. El Dibu has shown that, more than anything, he is a goalkeeper who wins titles.
5. Great Individual Performance
Finally, the other great reason for the Argentine title was the high level of several players. Beyond the impressive presentations by Lionel Messi and Emiliano Martínez, they were joined by Julián Álvarez, Ángel Di María, Alexis Mac Allister, Nicolás Otamendi, Rodrigo De Paul, Enzo Fernández (the best young player of the tournament), Leandro Paredes and Nahuel Molina, among others.
It is also a sample of the work of Scaloni, who knew how to choose his summoned in a good way and also give his figures the necessary rest. Di María, absent in the 2018 final, knew how to be ready to face France and was important when he scored Argentina's second goal.