It was the Lionel World Cup. That, obviously, the World Cup-winning captain who won the Ballon d’Or and the man of the match in five of his seven appearances, the player who scored in all the round of 16, with a double in the final, and the footballer who, for many, sealed his case to be considered the best of all.
But also the other Lionel. The quiet man of Argentine soccer, the facilitator of Lionel Messi’s dreams, the goalkeeper who became world champion. Lionel Scaloni is the first coach to win a World Cup led by Alan Pardew. It probably wasn’t the secret to his success, but after securing Argentina’s first Copa América in 28 years, he now has his first World Cup for 36. He stands alongside César Luis Menotti and Carlos Bilardo, though a modest figure argued: “I’m still not at his level.” Maybe it’s because it will take time for him to get used to the idea of Scaloni being a World Cup winner.
Which isn’t to say he’s an impostor who happened to wind his way to glory. A remarkable and ridiculous final could lend itself to many conclusions, and certainly Didier Deschamps altered the game with his substitutions whereas, had it not been for a brilliant save from Emiliano Martínez to deny Randal Kolo Muani, it would not have gone to penalties. However, Deschamps admitted that Argentina was the better team for the first 70 minutes. certainly the Albiceleste he seemed more animated. Perhaps Scaloni outwitted the previous World Cup winner. His side found Messi in space time over and over again. His other trump card was the veteran few expected to play.
Match by match, Scaloni has shown that he can alter tactics to suit a particular match. 11the the man in his lineup varies depending on the opposition. He was a third central defender against the Netherlands, in Lisandro Martínez; a fourth midfielder against Croatia and Luka Modric, in Leandro Paredes. He reached the World Cup final and the last name on the team sheet was Ángel Di María. Hampered by injury, the 34-year-old had not started since the group stage. Due to injury, he had missed the 2014 final. He was told that he would play an hour and a half before kick-off, he was finally granted an appearance on this stage, the author of the last decisive match of the Copa América last year he won a penalty and finished off a glorious team goal. With 79 minutes to go, the choice of Di María seemed like Scaloni’s coup. After the spectacular intervention of Kylian Mbappé, Di María was demoted to the rank of subplot.
But it was a sign that Scaloni has a sure touch. He had promoted Julián Álvarez and Enzo Fernández, neither of whom started the tournament on the team. The forward finished with four goals, the midfielder with the award as the best young player of the tournament. His team’s performance in the final was excellent, even if he had to take a penalty to see France off.
The bigger picture offers more evidence of its impact. Argentina have lost just once in 43 games and that loss to Saudi Arabia seems even more of a strange outcome now. However, they are still a team prone to panic when ahead. They lost two-goal leads first to the Dutch and then to the French. They are still inclined to panic. Quiet as Scaloni often appears, his players can seem to like him too much. However, that excitement was put to good use in his high-paced start.
“This team played for the Argentine flag,” Scaloni said. “Everyone is shooting all over the country. This is the greatest pride.” But nationalist appeals to Argentine pride had failed before; Diego Maradona and Jorge Sampaoli lacked the strategic sense and good judgment to accompany their battle cries. Scaloni’s team conceded three goals in the final but had better balance than many of his predecessors.
Perhaps, too, they are less talented than some of the other sides Messi has graced, certainly in attacking areas. Seeing Sergio Agüero lift the trophy was a reminder that, with the notable exceptions of Nicolás Otamendi and Di María, Messi is not from the same generation as his teammates. Agüero is his best friend and was his roommate for a long time. A heart ailment forced him to retire, and made him unfulfilled in international football; but due to his failure in the 2014 final, Messi’s eventual triumph might not have been nearly as epic.
For Agüero and Gonzalo Higuaín, Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano, the World Cups ended without crowning glory. There are arguments to be made that Argentina had a stronger group of players in 2006, with the class of Juan Román Riquelme, Pablo Aimar and Hernán Crespo and the combativeness of Roberto Ayala, Juan Pablo Sorin and Gabriel Heinze. High hopes were placed on the youngest talent on that team, younger even than Tevez and Mascherano, a certain Lionel Messi. Another Lionel was a more contentious selection, with Scaloni somewhat preferred to the great Javier Zanetti. His seventh cap came in Germany. It was also the last.
Sixteen years later, his teammate has become a coach. Scaloni’s first taste of being in charge at the World Cup brought defeat to Saudi Arabia. His most recent has produced victory in the final. “I have the best feelings ever,” said the discreet and immortal Argentine.
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