When it comes to Argentina, it’s all about Messi. How far can La Pulga carry Argentina this time around?

FIFA Ranking: 5

World Cup history
– Despite winning two World Cups, Argentina hasn’t had the World Cup success that some of the other football superpowers have had. Up until the last WC edition in Brazil, it couldn’t find the recipe against its European rivals and struggled to get past the quarter-finals. If it weren’t for Messi, Argentina wouldn’t have reached the final in 2014 either. In 1978, led by Golden Boot winner Mario Kempes, Argentina defeated Holland for its first ever World Cup title. Then, eight years later, Diego Maradona and his teammates conqered the world once again after a 3-2 win against West Germany. Maradona didn’t score in the final, but was awarded the Golden Ball as the tournament’s best player. Other than 1978, 1986 and 2014, Los Gauchos haven’t made it past the quarter-finals in any other World Cup.

How they qualified?
– You would think that a star-filled team led by Lionel Messi wouldn’t have any problems qualifying for a World Cup, but Argentina barely made it. La Albiceleste needed a marvelous hat-trick display by Messi in the last round at Ecuador to jump to third place and secure an automatic berth. Head coach Edgardo Bauza was sacked in the middle of the qualification cycle because of his team’s poor displays and former Chile manager Jorge Sampaoli was assigned with the task to get Argentina to the Russia, which he luckily managed to do.

Full 23-man squad:

Goalkeepers:
Sergio Romero (Manchester United)
Wilfredo Caballero (Chelsea)
Franco Armani (River Plate)

Defenders:
Gabriel Mercado (Sevilla)
Cristian Ansaldi (Torino)
Nicolas Otamendi (Manchester City)
Federico Fazio (Roma)
Marcos Rojo (Manchester United)
Nicolas Tagliafico (Ajax)
Marcos Acuna (Sporting Lisbon)

Midfielders:
Javier Mascherano (Hebei China Fortune)
Eduardo Salvio (Benfica)
Lucas Biglia (AC Milan)
Giovani Lo Celso (Paris Saint-Germain)
Ever Banega (Sevilla)
Manuel Lanzini (West Ham)
Maximiliano Meza (Independiente)
Angel di Maria (Paris Saint-Germain)
Cristian Pavon (Boca Juniors)

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Forwards:
Lionel Messi (Barcelona)
Paulo Dybala (Juventus)
Gonzalo Higuain (Juventus)
Sergio Aguero (Manchester City)

Coach: Jorge Sampaoli

Argentina’s Group D fixtures:
Argentina – Iceland (16 June), Otkritie Arena
Argentina – Croatia (21 June), Nizhny Novgorod Stadium
Argentina – Nigeria (26 June), Krestovsky Stadium

This Argentina squad can’t find peace. The grueling qualification process wasn’t enough, the coaching change wasn’t enough and the pressure that’s been put on Messi is not enough. Their last friendly match before the World Cup against Israel was cancelled due to death threats towards the players and today, Manuel Lanzini gets hurt. The only midfield technician Argentina has, a player who was showing great promise in the preparation period, blew out his knee in practice and will miss the trip to Russia. It’s devastating news for Sampaoli and for fans all around. The only worse news would’ve been if Messi got injured.

Lanzini’s absence puts further pressure on La Pulga to not only be Argentina’s captain, leader and goalscorer, but also its goal creator. We all know that The Albiceleste have an amazing attacking group. The problem doesn’t lie there. It’s the middle and back of the formation that are cause for concern. Banega, Biglia, Lo Celso and Mascherano are great holding midfielders, but Lanzini was the only forward thinking one. In 2014, Messi somehow carried his team to the final. This time around, destiny seems to be turning its back on the little phenomenon. Football is a team game after all.

Star player: 
Lionel Messi

Player to watch: 
Supposed to be Manuel Lanzini

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