Finally, the long wait is over. After the usual interminable dull speeches, dance numbers and presentation of worthies that make up the filler for any draw ceremony worth its salt, the 2022 World Cup took shape on Friday in Qatar. And overall, for Argentines everywhere watching anxiously, the result was pleasing.
Lionel Scaloni's men head Group C, where they will meet Mexico, Poland and Saudi Arabia in the tournament's opening stage. Gazing further into one's crystal ball, if the Albiceleste manage to take first place in the group their reward would be most likely avoiding France in the last-16, while also keeping heavyweights such as Brazil, Spain, Germany, England and the reigning champions safely out of reach until the semi-final stage.
There were a few post-draw gripes about how neighbours Brazil, as usual managed to do even better, facing Serbia, Switzerland and Cameroon in a less than fearsome Group G; but while it is always risky to get too over-confident at this early stage, both the draw and Argentina's recent form suggest that Lionel Messi could well enjoy a long run in what is most likely the captain's last World Cup.
The Paris Saint-Germain star was prompted to talk about his future following last Friday's 3-0 drubbing of Venezuela, a game that, coupled with the subsequent tie with Ecuador, brought Argentina's unbeaten run up to 31 games, levelling Alfio Basile's side of the early 1990s as the longest in national team history. “I am going to have to reconsider a lot of things, whether it goes well or otherwise,” he admitted to reporters in La Bombonera when asked if he had just played his final competitive game on Argentine soil.
“Messi will have to sit down and think, as he always has done,” Scaloni explained later in reference to his captain's cryptic words. “One always takes stock after a World Cup. In any case, we have to enjoy him.”
The conductor of the runaway Scaloneta has got it right, as he tends to these days after surviving a rocky start at the Argentina helm to become a national hero post-Copa America. Not just Messi, but the entire Albiceleste team are in fine form, maintaining that unbeaten streak this past week despite being shorn of several key players due to injury and suspension, which in turn let others step up and make their own case for World Cup inclusion – Alexis Mac Allister and Gerónimo Rulli in particular did their chances no harm.
This team is united, playing spectacular football at times and by all accounts having a great time doing it, on and off the field, and that is the sentiment that must be transmitted to all of Argentina from here until the World Cup itself. In players like Messi, the sensational Rodrigo De Paul and inspirational goalkeeper Emiliano Martínez to name just three they have the tools to go far in Qatar and no matter what happens in the tournament, a spectacular month of football is in store. And as for the biggest question of all, whether Argentina can actually win, that will become apparent only in December when the final knockout stages unfold. We have waited this long: what are eight months more?