Thursday, May 23, 2024

SPORTS | 26-08-2022 11:02

Argentina’s international stars in good form as World Cup draws closer

National side and its superstars are providing a rare jolt of optimism for Argentines as Qatar 2022 creeps ever closer.

It is a good time to be rooting for Argentina right now – the country's national team that is, of course. While on the front pages of the local newspapers doom and catastrophe is predicted on an almost daily basis the sports sections remain a refreshing source of optimism as the World Cup draws inexorably closer.

The now-famous Scaloneta seems to keep on pulling forwards. Last time we saw Argentina in action, Lionel Messi and Co were at Wembley taking Italy to pieces in a vintage display to win the Finalissima between the champions of Europe and South America. That performance was given short shrift by many on the other side of the Atlantic, but its virtue was shown when the Azzurri went on to push two Qatar favourites in England and Germany all the way, demonstrating that despite their absence from the main event they were certainly no walkover for the Albiceleste.

That clash back in June and a subsequent (and this time, admittedly, all but meaningless) friendly demolition of Estonia was the last time we saw Argentina in action. But there is no little confidence that Lionel Scaloni's men will hit the ground running, if the start of the club season is any indication.

It was a busy winter for the squad, with several seeking new clubs over the European transfer window. Julián Álvarez and Lisandro Martínez find themselves on either side of the Manchester divide at City and United respectively, while Ángel Di María bade a tearful farewell to Paris and Messi in favour of a move to Italian giants Juventus – who in turn were replacing fellow Argentine, Roma-bound Paulo Dybala. Defenders Nicolás Tagliafico and Nahuel Molina were also on the move and there was also transatlantic activity, in the shape of Enzo Fernández's exit from River Plate to join Nicolás Otamendi at Benfica.

While it is rather early to draw definitive conclusions, it appears that most of Argentina's new arrivals and old hands are shaping up for a vintage season. Álvarez and Martínez have earned encouraging praise in their first days in England, though Fernández has arguably impressed the most, netting three goals in his opening six games from midfield and putting in a barnstorming display to see Benfica through safely to the Champions League group stage. Over in Italy, meanwhile, both Dybala and Lautaro Martínez have overseen consecutive victories for Roma and Inter, the latter hitting a stunning opener against Spezia to open his Serie A account for the year.

Perhaps the only alarm bells have been raised by Rodrigo De Paul, the Albiceleste's new tabloid heartbreaker thanks to his very public relationship with singer Tini Stoessel, who is not only struggling for playing time at Atlético Madrid but managed to pick a fight with two national team colleagues, Gio Lo Celso and Juan Foyth, during a recent game against Villarreal. Later reports claimed that De Paul fielded a call from Scaloni warning him to rein in the foolish antics, and it is to be hoped that he is soon back to his best after standing out as a crucial part of the Argentina starting line-up these past two years.

You may have noticed someone is missing so far. Fittingly, the best has been left for last. Lionel Messi has charged out of the stalls at the start of the season like a man with a point to prove, even if there should be absolutely nothing on which the world needs convincing when it comes to the PSG maestro. Messi has smashed four goals in his first four games in 2022-2023 to almost equal his admittedly meagre tally last season, and he looks to be on top of the world and ready to conquer in Qatar. 

A word of warning, though: his great friend and team-mate Neymar is in just as scintillating form, which could have troubling implications should our sweetest dream and worst nightmare come to pass: a World Cup final against none other than Brazil.



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