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SPORTS | 17-11-2022 16:15

Unbeaten Argentina call for caution as World Cup pressure builds

National team coach Lionel Scaloni and captain Lionel Messi want to take the tournament one game at a time, but there’s little doubt that the Albiceleste are among the favourites to win the World Cup in Qatar.

The biggest names in football agree: Argentina are among the favourites to win the World Cup in Qatar. 

But despite the building pressure, those inside the Albiceleste camp, from coach Lionel Scaloni to inspirational captain Lionel Messi, are calling for caution and to take it one game at a time. 

"With Argentina at the moment we're doing well, people are excited, they're climbing the walls, they think we're coming back with the cup, but it's not that easy. A lot of things have to happen," the Paris Saint-Germain star said last month in an interview with DirectTV Sports, pointing to the likes of Brazil and France as strong contenders.

With a run of 36 matches unbeaten since July 2019 and two titles in between (the Copa América in 2021 and the Finalissima in 2022), Lionel Scaloni's Argentina team – popularly dubbed 'La Scaloneta' – looks to many like a well-oiled machine destined for big moments in Qatar.

"Argentina, with Messi, are one of the favourites to win the World Cup" because they also have "a game plan", attacker Robert Lewandowski recently told Spanish daily Marca. His side, Poland, will play Argentina at the end of Group C, which is completed by Mexico and Saudi Arabia.

Argentina's other potential opponents in Qatar also point to their strong record in recent years.

"They are more united, they haven't lost many games. Having Messi, they are always one of the favourites to win the World Cup," Croatia's Luka Modric told ESPN, highlighting how that opponent has progressed since the Balkan side thrashed the then-Jorge Sampaoli-coached side 3-0 in their 2018 World Cup group.

"Argentina, because they have an incredible player in Messi,” replied Senegal's Sadio Mané after Bayern Munich's win last month at Barcelona's stadium, when asked who is the favourite to clinch the trophy.

Spain coach Luis Enrique Martinez said last June that he saw Argentina "way ahead" of the rest and one of his international stars, Barcelona midfielder Pedri, also tipped Scaloni's side as "one of the favourites" because "it's Messi's last World Cup and he will do everything possible to win it."

One of Argentina's own World Cup squad, Julián Álvarez, also revealed that his manager at Manchester City, Pep Guardiola, shares that view. He recounted how in the dressing room several European players were chatting about the World Cup favourites and were only citing teams from their continent, until the Spanish coach intervened to point to Álvarez himself, who remained silent, as the one most likely to lift the trophy.


‘A World Cup is something else’

The views of these big favourites contrast with some words from one of football's top stars, Kylian Mbappé, who told TNT Sports Brazil last May that France and other Europeans are the favourites at the World Cup.

"Argentina and Brazil don't play games of a high level to get to the World Cup. In South America, football is not as advanced as in Europe. And that's why when you look at the last World Cups it's always the Europeans who win," the French star said at the time.

A few days after Mbappé's words, Argentina beat Italy 3-0 in the Finalissima in London – a duel between the reigning champions of South America and Europe.

But on that stay in England, Scaloni called for "calm" from fans and journalists to avoid being overly euphoric.

"We are no more or less of a candidate than others for having won this. We are a good team, we are going to compete, and a World Cup is something else," he warned at the press conference after the win over the Italians.

Calling for calm is commonplace in Argentina in the face of fans’ excitement in the build-up to the tournament.

"We have to be calm. We can't send out the message that we're the best, because that's not the case," Messi warned in statements to Channel 13, shortly before the 2018 World Cup kicked off. 

Argentina fell at the last-16 stage in Russia, losing to Mbappé's France. This year, despite the calls for caution, they are hoping to go all the way.


By Diego Reinares / AFP


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