After Argentina’s stunning defeat at the hands of Saudi Arabia in the opening match of their 2022 World Cup campaign, they needed a quality performance to reignite their hopes against Mexico.
A dire opening 45 minutes gave little indication that they would be able to do so, but as the match wore on and manager Lionel Scaloni rang the changes, a style of play gradually emerged.
By the end of the match, as a desperate and tired Mexico pushed forward, Argentina looked confident and composed.
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Whether by accident or design Scaloni appeared to have arrived at a group of players and a system capable of functioning harmoniously.
Or at least, that’s what ITV punditry team of Joe Cole, Roy Keane, and Gary Neville seemed to think.
After the match, Keane said: “In the second half, I was looking at Argentina thinking ‘what kind of characters have you got, because you’re up against it’, but they turned it around. They found a way to win the game with two bits of quality. Credit to the manager, he made changes before the game and just as important, made changes during the game. They got the job done and they’ll be feeling a lot better tonight.”
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The changes to which Keane referred included the switch from a back four to a back five midway through the Mexico match.
Neville was more explicit in his praise.
He admitted that he was ready to give up on Argentina at half time. He said: “In the first half, I couldn’t see a way for Argentina in terms of the overall competition.”
But Scaloni’s tactical tweaks bore fruit. Neville explained: “I liked it when they went to five at the back, they did it at the start of the second half by dropping one of the midfield players in, but then they bought Romero on. All of a sudden, they looked a lot more aggressive and the three in midfield had a lot more energy.”
Neville went on to explain how the withdrawal of Inter Milan striker Lautaro Martinez had also paid off.
He said: “Then with Alvarez and Messi up front as a two, you can build from a solid foundation and have the players up front who can actually deliver in moments, which is how Argentina are going to win this tournament if they’re going to do it.”
Host Mark Pougatch then made the comparison to England in 1986.
The Three Lions got off to a stuttering start in Mexico, losing their opening match to Portugal and drawing with Morocco to set up a must-win final group game against Poland. But win against Poland they did, before slicing through Paraguay in the round of 16. An immortal performance by Diego Maradona in the quarter-final brought their run to a premature end, but the England team that finished that World Cup bore little resemblance to that which had begun it.
Pougatch suggested that Argentina may follow a similar path in Qatar.
Argentina’s victory over Mexico puts them second in Group C, ahead of Saudi Arabia on goal difference. The Albiceleste’s new approach will face a different test in the form of Poland in their final group game, where only victory will assure them of progress to the knockout rounds.
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