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04 Jul 2018

World Cup 2018: Where did Argentina go wrong against France?

World Cup 2018: Where did Argentina go wrong against
France?

Jorge Sampaoli's Argentina crashed out of the World Cup after a terrific game ended in a 4-3 loss to France.

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Downfall was bubbling

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Reinforced negativity

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2018's signs were clear

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Poor player pool

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Sampaoli's mutiny

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Not all about the France game

REUTERS/Dylan Martinez

An end-to-end Round of 16 encounter saw South American heavyweights Argentina bow out of the World Cup after a 4-3 loss to France in Kazan.

The match will go down as one of the most memorable Round of 16 matches at World Cup for years to come. It was a game that featured attacking football, memorable goals and probable world stage exits. 

For Argentina, the rebuilding process will start over once again. 2014's finalists crashed out with a whimper and this time the inquest will go much deeper. 

Where did it all go wrong for the Argentines? What could have changed? And how might it have been?

Downfall was bubbling

Argentina's downfall had been on the cards for a long time. 

After the 2014 extra-time loss in the final to Germany, the South Americans were sent back to the drawing board. 

Argentina won all of their group games in 2014 but the points on the board didn't represent reality. The table never lies but in a World Cup, the odds are that much higher, the margins that much finer. 

REUTERS/John Sibley

In the 2014 campaign, Argentina didn't win a game by over one goal. Scraping past Iran, Nigeria and Bosnia and Herzegovina in the group stages, the performances left most doubting their chances of making further progress.

1-0 wins over Switzerland and Belgium followed, then a penalty shoot-out win over the Netherlands in the semi-finals to set up the clash with Germany. 

The final was minutes from going all the way, Mario Gotze's strike ultimately the difference. Argentina had reached the final but at no point was there an overwhelming agreement along of the lines of 'they can win it' uttered. 

Reinforced negativity

Argentina's results in the immediate aftermath of the World Cup in Brazil brought mixed results, an inconsistent pattern of wins and losses. 

The 2015 Copa America, though, was a positive affair. Positive, that is, before Argentina missed out on the crown on penalties to Chile in what would be a pivotal moment in their recent history.

Qualification for the 2018 World Cup then got off to a bad start with Argentina going winless in their first three matches.  

Another fine run in the Copa America in the 2016 edition ended in deja vu with Argentina again losing in the final to Chile - a defeat which signalled a knee-jerk retirement announcement from Lionel Messi. If the weather warnings weren't severe at this before that, they were now.

REUTERS/Pilar Olivares 

Though Messi reinstated himself as an international player before missing any matches, the damage, on reflection, may have already been done. 

Messi was integral for Argentina and still is, even now. Vowing to return only to help Argentina qualify for the 2018 tournament, Messi was part of a squad that struggled to get a foothold in CONMEBOL's table. 

It wasn't until the last round of games that Messi and his side were guaranteed passage to the party, a nervy enough moment in its own right. 

2018's signs were clear

At the turn of the year, Argentinian fans didn't know whether to be thankful or angry. Yes, they'd qualified for the World Cup but they'd also done so by the skin of their teeth and been comprehensively beaten by Nigeria in Moscow. 

As it turned out, a 4-0 win against Haiti was the only preparation the squad would have for the tournament in Russia: not much time to erase the pain of a 6-1 hammering from Spain, then.

REUTERS/Dylan Martinez

All the signs were negative as the tournament drew nearer. After being drawn in a group with Iceland, Denmark and Nigeria, Argentina were favourites to emerge from Group D but, for some strange reason, no one really knew why. 

Take Messi out of the equation and it really is just the name that carries a false reputation. Argentina hadn't been feared, in all honesty, for some time... so why now?

Of the 14 players who featured in the World Cup final, seven were kept in the squad in the 2018 list. Argentina were struggling for standout youth and had to rely on experience that was aging. 

Poor player pool

When Jorge Sampaoli named his squad for the tournament, it wasn't clear at the time just how disjointed this Argentina side was. 

Sergio Romero, who remains an under-study to David de Gea at Manchester United, was injured and out of contention; that he is still the first choice goalkeeper for a national side is alarming in its own right. 

Instead, Willy Caballero was selected as the intended number one; another player who offers a back-up option, this time at Chelsea. 

Franco Armani and Nahuel Guzman were the other two selected, meaning that Argentina were heading to Russia with three goalkeepers who had 13 caps between them: problem number one.

REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado

Nicolas Tagliafico was one of only three defenders selected who were under 30 years old. Of the nine midfielders picked, only four were under 30. Of the four forwards, only one was under 30 - Paulo Dybala who wasn't once used in Russia. 

Argentina's team, then, was weak and they were heavily reliant on an obviously off-the-pace Javier Mascherano to run their midfield. 

Pre-tournament hype over Paris St-Germain forward Giovani Lo Celso was high but, after the first group game, it was rapidly extinguished, meaning the old guard were let to carry responsibility once again. 

The one area that Argentina don't lack is in attack. Sergio Aguero, Lionel Messi, Gonzalo Higuain and Paulo Dybala were at Sampaoli's disposal but using the four in the same team and set-up proved too hard a puzzle to solve. 

Sampaoli's mutiny

Argentina's campaign got off to a poor start after drawing 1-1 with Iceland, setting alarm bells ringing earlier than expected. 

Things went from bad to worse when Sampaoli's side were utterly torn apart by a rampant Croatia side who put three past a juvenile-looking defence. 

At that point, rumours of unrest in the Argentina dressing room grew stronger by the hour. Reports suggested that the squad had completely lost faith in their manager, and that captain Lionel Messi and other senior players had taken over first-team matters.

REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

The celebrations following Marcos Rojo's late winner against Nigeria to put Argentina through to the knockout phase proved it: Sampaoli went the opposite direction down the touchline to his team. It was a situation that reeked of mutiny. 

The real truth behind the scenes remains to be seen but the set-up, attitude and desire of the Argentina side was at a polar opposite against Nigeria when compared to the embarrassing loss to Croatia.

Whatever the outcome, players exiling their manager is never a positive thing, nor is the players picking their own team.

Not all about the France game

On the face of it, given the preparation, past results and recent rumours, the Argentinian exit was almost decided before the game with France even kicked off. Few gave them a chance. 

While the 4-3 result was unexpected in terms of the closeness, though on the balance of play, many may see it as flattering the Argentinians. 

Regardless of how they set up, the mood around the game screamed of a French win. Had the downfall been coming and had the result already been on the cards? Argentina were lucky to escape from Group D and few will argue that they had the credentials to go far. 

Sampaoli's side were on a hiding to nothing - it's not about how they set up against France, which players they picked or how they approached the game. Yes, they made a game of it, perhaps more than they should have been allowed to, but their fate was already sealed. 

What are your opinions on Argentina? Let us know by commenting below.