FIFA Ranking: 8
Argentina have appeared at 17 different World Cups, winning the tournament twice (1978 and 1986) and finishing runners-up 3 times. Their last appearance in the final came in 2014 when they lost to Germany in extra time.
Argentina scraped through to the knockouts of the 2018 World Cup after finishing second in the group, but were eliminated 4-3 by champions France in a see-saw last-16 encounter that was considered one of the most entertaining games of the tournament.
How they qualified:
Argentina finished second in the CONMEBOL qualifiers behind Brazil despite one of their games against their South American rivals being abandoned when Brazilian health officials stopped the match amid alleged COVID-19 quarantine violations.
Like Brazil, they were unbeaten during the campaign where they scored 27 goals in 17 games while conceding only eight and keeping 10 clean sheets. Lionel Messi and Lautaro Martinez were Argentina’s top scorers with seven goals each.
Argentina are on a 35-match unbeaten run since they last lost a match to Brazil in 2019, winning their first major trophy in 28 years when they lifted the 2021 Copa America title.
The team has not been tested since their ‘Finalissima’ win over Italy in June, however, comfortably winning their last three matches against Estonia, Honduras and Jamaica while scoring 11 goals and conceding none.
Skipper Messi has been in blistering form, scoring nine times in his last three games, including all five goals in the 5-0 win over Estonia.
Eyeing the World Cup glory
Argentina’s nearly 3 decades of pain and run of tearful losses in major finals came to an end last year when they won the Copa America and Lionel Scaloni’s team will head to the World Cup by taking confidence from that triumph in Brazil.
Having last lost at the 2019 Copa America, ‘La Albiceleste’ fly into Qatar on the back of a 35-match unbeaten streak and as one of the firm favourites to break Europe’s 16-year stranglehold on the World Cup.
Much of the credit for winning a major final after six failed attempts goes to Scaloni, the 44-year-old who rose from the role of assistant to doomed manager Jorge Sampaoli, to caretaker and eventually permanent boss.
The Argentine FA entrusted the rebuilding project to Scaloni who took over after their 2018 World Cup exit in the last 16 and with him at the helm Argentina followed up the 2021 Copa win by comfortably beating Euro winners Italy in June’s ‘Finalissima’.
Argentina had been a top heavy side for years with a luxury of options to choose from in attack but were let down by a defence and midfield that leaked goals. Scaloni’s first order of business was changing that.
Out went ageing players and in came young, hungry hopefuls as Scaloni implemented his vision for a successful team that would later be nicknamed ‘La Scaloneta’ the house Scaloni built.
Goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez, centre-back Cristian Romero and midfielder Rodrigo De Paul formed the spine of the new-look team as Scaloni found players capable of taking some of the burden off Lionel Messi’s shoulders.
Their possession-based game, with players such as Giovani Lo Celso, Leandro Paredes and De Paul dictating the tempo, freed Messi to be involved further up the pitch where he is most lethal.
Their talisman has been encouraged by Scaloni’s changes and tactical acumen, growing more determined to perform well for Argentina and even playing through injury in the Copa America semis and final.
The 35-year-old was the best player at the 2014 World Cup when he came agonisingly close to replicating Diego Maradona’s success by leading Argentina to World Cup glory, only to be beaten in the final by a superior Germany team.
Messi is the sole surviving member from that starting lineup at the Maracana Stadium. But this time he has the support of a squad built by Scaloni to win not just matches, but titles.