At 33, with his lifelong club, Barça, Messi has collected titles and won the Ballon d’Or six times, a record. Except that with the Albiceleste, the Grail escapes him. Since 1986 and the title gleaned in Mexico, a year before his birth, Argentina has been waiting for another World Cup victory. The little striker has said it several times: “the only dream I have left to realize is to win a World Cup with the selection“.
After the heavy episode of the summer, when he wanted to leave Barcelona unsuccessfully, the Argentine captain would like this South American parenthesis to be a breath of fresh air. Argentina especially intends not to repeat the false start of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup in Russia where it lost … against Ecuador for the first time in its history at home, at the Monumental stadium of Buenos Aires (2-0). It took a stroke of genius from Messi, author of a hat-trick on the final day of the return leg in Quito (3-1), to snatch the qualification, third behind Uruguay and Brazil.
For this first home match, the Albiceleste will have to adapt, not only to its opponent, but above all to a new environment: behind closed doors and the absence of the legendary popular fervor that permeates the Argentinian stands. All matches in these first two qualifying days will be played without a home crowd, and Boca Juniors’ lair in Buenos Aires, Bombonera, will ring unusually hollow for Ecuador’s reception.
Around his playing master, the young coach Lionel Scaloni (42), with no previous experience in a club or in the national team, created a surprise. The former right-back has renewed in great width the backbone of the team of his predecessor, Jorge Sampaoli, released in the knockout stages of the 2018 World Cup (4-3 against France, future champion). Scaloni dismissed the two usual “Pulga” sidekicks in attack: Angel Di Maria, not selected despite good consistency with Paris SG, and Sergio Agüero, injured, who has not yet resumed with Manchester City.
He preferred two younger elements to them: Juventus striker Paulo Dybala, 26, and Inter Milan striker Lautaro Martinez, 23. The objective is to “let Messi have two players in front of him, which he can use in support or in depth “. And to accompany “la Pulga”, it is the middle of Seville, Lucas Ocampos, who has the favors of Scaloni. A player “strong, technical, who has a sense of goal and is invaluable in the defensive phases “, he praised. On the Ecuadorian side, another Argentinian will be in charge: Gustavo Alfaro, who had never coached a national team and has a reputation as a defensive coach.
Probable composition of the teams:
Argentina: E. Martinez – Montiel, Quarta, Otamendi, Tagliafico – De Paul, Paredes, Ocampos – Messi, L. Martinez, Dybala
Coach: Lionel Scaloni
Ecuador: Dominguez – Perlaza, Guerra, Arboleda, Preciado – Méndez, Franco, Sornoza, Gruezo – Valencia, Estrada
Coach: Gustavo Alfaro