By Lucien Betancourt
The 2022 World Cup has come to an end, and Argentina came out on top, 3-3 (4-2 in penalties) to win its third-ever Cup. Their journey was an uphill battle from day one. Let’s examine how Argentina’s tactics got Lionel Messi the trophy he’s been waiting for.
Everyone remembers Argentina’s first Cup match, an absolute shock to the football world: their 2-1 loss to Saudi Arabia. It all seemed over after that game, as they had lost what on paper was their easiest game and were about to face tougher opponents in Poland and Mexico. However, this loss was a blessing in disguise, exposing Argentina’s key weaknesses. In this game, Messi played in the middle of the field instead of in his usual right-wing position, dropping in between Saudi Arabia’s aggressively defensive formation. This positioning of Messi constricted the field in a way that played into the Saudis’ hands, blocking off the superstar from doing anything with the ball and forcing risky plays behind their high line leading to several costly offside calls for Argentina. The Saudis also punished Argentina on the counterattack, forcing the overconfident defenders into precarious positions and scoring their 2 goals. In their game against Mexico, several players were benched and replaced, most notably with the addition of Mac Allister in the starting lineup– more on him a bit. In this game, and every game going forward, Argentina lined up in a new formation. Julian Alvarez played alone up front, with Messi dropping back to exploit the width and space between the defense and midfield. This crucial switch practically won the tournament for Argentina. They repeated this strategy in their must-win matches against Poland and Australia, with Messi tearing up the right side. This sent Argentina to their toughest opponent up to that point: the Netherlands.
It was a tense match, with Argentina leading until a late comeback by Netherland striker Wout Weghorst sent the fate of both teams penalties. Emiliano Martinez, Argentina’s goalkeeper, stood out as Argentina’s savior, saving 2 penalties and winning the shootout. However, their semifinal match was a little easier, facing off against a Croatian team that sounded more dangerous than they were. It was a steamroll, with Messi and Alvarez again leading the way to a 3-0 win.
For the final, Coach Lionel Scaloni played in a more balanced formation, adding more strikers to the front and subtracting midfielders, including putting Messi back in the front 3. French standout Kylian Mbappe was given space to get the ball, hoping that he would tire out and not find his strikers. Argentina got an early 2-0 lead by passing the ball around, forcing France to drop back deeper and deeper, losing their concentration and form and opening it up for the strikers to take advantage of. The change came however when French coach Didier Deschamps substituted a trio of fast wingers who could be threats from midfield. They were enough to bypass the Argentinian midfield, forcing several 1v1 matchups with the slower Argentine defenders. All three of France’s goals came through these players, who opened up the field and allowed their speed to reign superior over Argentina’s previous stability on defense. Camavinga’s entry as left-back offered France better help in defense, which kept Messi quiet for the rest of the game and allowed France to counter and exploit the spaces left on defense. However, it went to penalties, and goalie Emiliano Martinez’s ability to once again get in the attacker’s head and disrupt their penalty kicks led to 2 saves and their World Cup victory.
In Argentina’s run to the final, I’d argue that their most vital player was Mac Allister, who usually kept quiet but had a big impact in his position as a roaming midfielder. He provided a vital link between the ball-carrying defenders and the wide attackers. He was quiet on the score sheet, with only a goal and an assist overall. However, he has been a crucial part in every single one of Argentina’s games, contributing to a win in every single game, except for the only one he didn’t play: Argentina’s loss versus Saudi Arabia. Four players from Argentina played in every single game during the Cup: Messi, De Paul, Emiliano Martinez, and Otamendi, and they were responsible for Argentina’s ability to stay in close games Argentina’s defense capabilities are what made this team so successful, but you can’t win without goals, which is where Messi and Alvarez shined as the top scorers.
However, no player is bigger than the team in the World Cup, as every player of this great team gave their all for the chance to win the trophy. They went from losing their opening game of the World Cup to doing what no one else could: win the whole thing.