Argentina kick off their bid to win a third World Cup with a group stage contest against Saudi Arabia on Tuesday morning.
As the ball nestled in Oswaldo Sanchez’s net and Maxi Rodriguez was swarmed by a sea of neon-bibbed substitutes, the first player to celebrate Argentina’s winning goal with Lionel Messi was Lionel Scaloni. 16 years on from that World Cup round of 16 triumph, the pair serve as the captain and manager of an Argentina squad gunning for gold in Qatar.
Here’s the lineup Scaloni may select for their tournament opener.
GK: Emi Martinez – “I’m just so proud to be Argentinian,” Martinez declared on the eve of his first World Cup.
RB: Nahuel Molina – The Atletico Madrid full-back has never lost while representing his country.
CB: Nicolas Otamendi – As a 22-year-old, Otamendi played three matches at the 2010 World Cup, including the 4-0 evisceration against Germany in the quarter-finals.
CB: Lisandro Martinez – The thoroughly no-nonsense centre-back made just one appearance in Argentina’s triumphant Copa America campaign in 2021 but may be granted a starting berth this winter in the potential absence of the injured Cristian Romero.
LB: Marcos Acuna – Given the nickname ‘el Huevo’ – the Egg – due to the number of bumps and lumps he would pick up while playing football as a kid.
CM: Rodrigo De Paul – On his Valencia debut, De Paul was sent off after just 63 seconds. He managed to last the first 45 minutes of his international bow before getting substituted.
CM: Leandro Paredes – The PSG loanee has started just three Serie A matches since joining Juventus in the summer but is an integral cog in Argentina’s midfield.
CM: Alexis Mac Allister – A player that can boast Scottish and Irish heritage, Mac Allister’s Argentinian father played alongside Diego Maradona for Boca Juniors and Argentina.
RW: Lionel Messi – The centre-piece of Argentina’s world title tilt was persuaded out of international retirement by Scaloni following the 2018 World Cup. Every Argentinian fan – and many neutrals – will be mightily grateful.
ST: Lautaro Martinez – A desperately streaky goalscorer, Lautaro has gone four or more games without finding the net on three separate occasions already this season.
LW: Angel Di Maria – In the 2021 Copa America final, at the home of Brazilian football no less, Di Maria became the first Argentinian player to score a winning goal in a final since Gabriel Batistuta.