The greatest player in the world, Lionel Messi, was left gutted by his country’s defeat to Colombia in their opening game of the 2019 edition of the Copa America. That 2-0 loss puts their chances of qualification at risk, with Paraguay and Qatar to play.
Argentina’s problems run much deeper than this one defeat. Last year, at the World Cup, they scraped through what seemed like a relatively easy group after dramatic win over Nigeria but the 3-0 defeat to Croatia that preceded that result saw their flaws laid bare for all to see.
They eventually went out in the last 16 to France in one of the games of the tournament, eventually losing 4-3 in a spirited display. But Jorge Sampaoli’s time in charge had come to an end and rounded off a decade of disappointment under six different managers ranging from Diego Maradona to Gerardo Martino.
Argentina, one of the great footballing nations, have failed to win a trophy on the international stage since 1993, when they won the Copa America - although their u23’s did win Olympic gold in 2008. Since then, it has been a whole host of near misses, lead by their star man Messi.
He made his debut back in 2005 and since then he has represented the Albiceleste at no less than four World Cups and five Copa Americas. Always the bridesmaid, never the bride has been the case for Messi on the international stage and he has come ever so close on several occasions. An extra-time Mario Gotze goal meant the World Cup eluded him in 2014 and three Copa America final defeats, two penalty shootouts in the last two editions of the competition - have left him with just a couple of shots left at winning a trophy.
Yet it is remarkable that Argentina have even reached those finals with the squad that they have had. Their defensive frailties of recent years were unavoidable last year in the World Cup and they have not disappeared under new boss Lionel Scaloni. Number one goalkeeper Franco Armani may be 32, yet he has only made six caps for his country.
Three of the back four that started against Colombia were all inexperienced and it shows. Renzo Saravia has made just five appearances, German Pezzella eight, and Nicolas Tagliafico 15. That is simply not a good enough, or experienced enough backline to take them deep into any international tournament - no matter how good Messi is at the other end.
Argentina have always been known as a resolute side that is hard to beat but recently they have been a passive side who do not have the heart or grit to compete with some of South America’s big boys. The 2014 side featured Javier Mascherano, Pablo Zabaleta and Martin Demichelis, experienced players who knew how to fight their way to victory.
There is no sign of that in the 2019 side and Lionel Messi, for all his ability, is not that type of leader on the pitch. Attacking quality has not been in short supply over the years with Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain, Paolo Dybala and Mauro Icardi all representing their country alongside Messi, but there has been a lack of cohesion between those forward players.
Scaloni will be hoping for a reaction from his players heading into their second group game and they could still qualify from the group with Paraguay and Qatar to play. Messi may be the star of the show, but the other players, especially in defensive players will need to get their act together if they are to see one of the best players ever lift an international trophy.