Argentina, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Poland


Leo Messi (left)

Leo Messi (left)
Picture: Getty Photos

OK, I’m stretching to get a Rush reference into these. However the coronary heart desires what it desires.

It’s an entire new world for Argentina coming into this World Cup. Definitely in Russia in 2018, and to an extent in Brazil in 2014, the noise across the Albiceleste coming into the match was to form of marvel how they might encompass Lionel Messi with such an underwhelming assortment of the bewildered and sluggish. After all, in 2014, Messi dragged them to the ultimate, however he wanted 4 targets in simply the group stage, together with a last-minute winner towards Iran. They wanted further time to get previous Switzerland within the second spherical, mainly held on to beat Belgium after scoring within the eighth minute, and squeaked by means of on penalties over The Netherlands in one of many worst matches ever performed. And had Gonzalo Higuain been capable of find his ass with one hand and a GPS, Argentina most likely would have received the ultimate. However a powerful crew, it was not.

2018 was even worse, the place they barely scraped out of the group, and although they threw one thing of a scare into France taking a 2-1 lead, they largely acquired thwacked thereafter (2.2 – 0.8 in xG). Trying on the lineup that day, solely Angel Di Maria may declare to be wherever close to world-class stage, as Javier Mascherano by that time was utilizing a walker to get across the pitch. Even the 2014 crew solely had Di Maria, a nonetheless clinging to his prime Mascherano, and arguably Pablo Zabaleta. The urge is to place Higuain on the listing, besides when he was placing on an Argentina shirt he reverted to being Alvaro Morata or one thing. And his costing Messi three main trophies with their nation with some hilarious misses backs that up. You understand it’s dangerous while you get a devoted YouTube video of your failures.

This time round, Argentina are being talked about because the second or third favourite with France and Brazil. A few of that’s based mostly on their Copa America victory final 12 months. And so they did that in quite a lot of methods. They totally clubbed Ecuador within the quarters, and did the identical towards Colombia within the semis however have been the victims of David Ospina’s newest wonderwall for his nation and wanted penalties. In opposition to Brazil at The Maracana, they have been capable of rating within the first half after which smother the hosts fairly successfully (0.7 xG whereas trailing for many of the match for Brazil) to win Messi his first main trophy for Argentina.

They’ve gone on to lace by means of qualifying after that, with solely attracts towards Paraguay and Brazil at house a blemish, in addition to a last-day draw towards Ecuador that didn’t actually imply something to them. The truth is, Argentina haven’t misplaced in a really very long time, with a 35-match unbeaten run heading into this match. That’s slightly arduous to guage totally, as they’ve solely been capable of play non-European groups for essentially the most half due to the Nations League and the marathon South American qualifying course of. Nonetheless, once they acquired a take a look at Italy within the Finalissima final June, they kicked their dicks proper into the filth to the tune of a 3-0 win.

It’s not simply the outcomes, however that Argentina simply has a manner higher squad this time round. Possibly there’s nonetheless a dearth of gamers in Messi’s class, even in his 35-year-old stage, however ahead Latauro Martinez most likely can declare to be. Argentina have largely performed some type of the 4-3-3 that Messi used at Barca to turn out to be an unholy power, although he’s bounced from enjoying from the appropriate and as a straight No. 10 behind two forwards. Papu Gomes has often been on the opposite aspect of Messi and Martinez. Or it could possibly be Man Metropolis’s sizzling younger factor Julian Alvarez. There are alternatives.

And there are much more in midfield, the place Giovanni Lo Celso or Alexis Mac Allister or Rodrigo De Paul or Leandro Paredes stay. Not solely do all of those guys present a good quantity of metal in midfield and might mainly flip each lead right into a mountain to climb for opponents, however all can do sufficient operating and work to make up for the truth that with out the ball, Messi isn’t going to do a lot shifting in any respect. It is a bonus of the opposite forwards Argentina use as effectively. Supervisor Lionel Scaloni has cracked the code on this.

The draw is fairly sort as effectively. That is simply above a nothing group, particularly if Mexico carries their type from qualifying into this. There’s a possible banana pores and skin with Denmark within the spherical of 16, although that would develop into France in the event that they get slightly foolish within the group. The quarters may see a wonky Dutch aspect (it’s arduous to see Senegal getting there with out Sadio Mane) or England in the event that they don’t win their group or some such. They’ll duck Brazil and doubtless France, and nobody else ought to make them quake.

It feels prefer it’s arrange for them, and the one pothole is that if Martinez pulls a Higuain, or Messi simply can’t fairly conjure one thing at a pivotal second due to his advancing years. Seeing as how he’s barely needed to break a sweat with PSG all season, that doesn’t appear seemingly. It’s all techniques go right here.

They’ll have that tender touchdown within the group stage partially as a result of this is among the stinkier Mexico squads to point out up for a World Cup. Whereas they’re nonetheless on a quest for “quinto partido,” the land past the Spherical of 16 that they’ve by no means reached because the tourney included that, this one would possibly wish to focus extra on getting out of the group. Poland will at the least function Robert Lewandowski and Piotr Zieliński, two gamers higher than something Mexico has. There was a time when Raúl Jiménez would have been one of many extra feared strikers on this match, however he’s barely getting on the sphere for Wolves today and hasn’t been the identical (understandably) since he suffered a cranium fracture. His well being could maintain him off the squad altogether. Issues acquired even worse for them when Jesús Corona was dominated out with an ankle damage. Chucky Lozano goes to have to hold nearly all of the water up entrance right here.

The place the midfield isn’t previous it’s unproven and missing concepts. Mexico can have a ton of the ball and go nowhere with it, which seemed fairly apparent in its 4 video games with the US and Canada in qualifying, none of which they received. It additionally appears like they’re on the verge of firing Tata Martino as supervisor each 5 minutes. Possibly they pull all of it collectively now that the large match is right here, however it feels extra like that is the ultimate push for a complete catastrophe. And no, even when they handle to get out of this group, there might be no fifth sport ready behind a date with France or Denmark.

Poland come into this like they do each match, hoping that Lewandowski and Zieliński can one way or the other do all of it by themselves. Zieliński is at the least enjoying for the world’s most enjoyable crew in Napoli proper now and fairly effectively, in truth. If we’ve got to speak ourselves into Jesus Ferreira being up for this, then Poland is completely in a position to take action with Karol Świderski who banged in 10 targets for Charlotte in MLS to go along with his 5 throughout qualifying. Nonetheless, Poland acquired a free cross within the qualifying playoffs when Russia was tossed out, that means they solely needed to play one sport to Sweden’s two final spring and it confirmed. Their match with Mexico may show pivotal.

Saudi Arabia may have a bonus in that the majority of their crew performs for one membership within the nation, Al Hilal, in order that they’ll have a baseline of chemistry and familiarity that quite a lot of different groups received’t. You noticed how simply they have been capable of frustrate the U.S. in a pleasant, and it’s not arduous to see them doing the identical to Mexico or Poland which lack firepower. May simply make issues fascinating happening to the final day.

Supervisor most definitely to get red-carded: Needs to be Martino, who will see his firing behind each name that doesn’t go Mexico’s manner. Ought to issues go sideways he may get an early begin on his exit.

Greatest jerseys: Argentina might need the basic look, however must say Mexico’s are fairly boss, particularly the away ones.

Image for article titled Albiceleste of Steel? World Cup Group C Preview: Argentina, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Poland

Image for article titled Albiceleste of Steel? World Cup Group C Preview: Argentina, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Poland


Tuesday, Nov. 22 — Argentina v. Saudi Arabia (5 a.m. EST), Mexico v. Poland (11 a.m. EST)

Saturday, Nov. 26 — Poland v. Saudi Arabia (8 a.m. EST), Argentina v. Mexico (2 p.m. EST)

Wednesday, Nov. 30 — Argentina v. Poland, Mexico v. Saudi Arabia (each at 2 p.m. EST)



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