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World Cup loss raises doubts about Argentina’s health

Argentina's head coach Lionel Scaloni, right, and assistant coach Pablo Aimar stand on the field during a training session of Argentina's national soccer team in Doha, Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2022. (AP Photo/Jorge Saenz)

Argentina’s head coach Lionel Scaloni, proper, and assistant coach Pablo Aimar stand on the sector throughout a coaching session of Argentina’s nationwide soccer group in Doha, Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2022. (AP Photograph/Jorge Saenz)

PA

Sadly for Argentina followers, it wasn’t only a dangerous dream. Their group actually did lose 2-1 to Saudi Arabia in one of many largest shocks within the World Cup’s 92-year historical past.

Now the strain is on Lionel Messi and Argentina, who can’t afford to lose their subsequent match towards Mexico on Saturday in the event that they wish to maintain their World Cup hopes alive.

“It is time to be united, flip the web page and now not take into consideration what occurred,” Messi mentioned after the humiliating defeat towards Saudi Arabia, the second-lowest ranked group within the event. “Take reflections, take the positives to enhance what we did incorrect and take into consideration Mexico. We at all times mentioned we had been going to look to win each recreation and now greater than ever.”

A lot for Argentina arriving in Qatar in ideally suited form to win a 3rd World Cup, having received the Copa America final 12 months and been on a 36-game unbeaten run. Now there are doubts arising all over the place. Are key gamers match sufficient? Does Lionel Scaloni — Argentina’s unintended coach — have the expertise to deal with the strain of a World Cup? And may Messi, now 35, nonetheless carry Argentina to the one prize in soccer nonetheless to elude him?

Worryingly, Messi spoke of “nervousness” that crept into his group.

“The aim so early (within the second half) harm us, it made us confused,” Messi mentioned. “We knew it might occur within the first recreation, if we did not play in one of the simplest ways we had been doing, and I feel that occurred to us. We did not discover the efficiency or the sport that we have been demonstrating for a very long time.”

In some methods, the loss to the Saudis was a freak outcome. They scored with two of their three pictures on aim, all of which got here within the second half. Argentina might simply have been two or three targets forward by halftime if it wasn’t for a few marginal offside calls solely found by video overview. And Argentina created sufficient possibilities late within the recreation to take a minimum of a draw.

But, there have been sufficient issues to make even essentially the most optimistic Argentina fan involved.

Some gamers clearly weren’t at peak health. Cristian Romero, the middle again rounded too simply by Saleh Alshehri for the primary aim, hasn’t performed for the final month at English membership Tottenham due to a muscle damage and did not look prepared. Equally, Leandro Paredes and striker Angel Di Maria have performed restricted minutes since October after accidents.

That Romero and Paredes had been substituted quickly after Saudi Arabia’s second aim within the 53rd was a sign one thing was not proper.

Heart midfielder Rodrigo De Paul and proper again Nahuel Molina are usually not regulars for Atletico Madrid and lacked sharpness. De Paul, particularly, ended up battling the Saudis’ sudden depth and physicality.

Giovani Lo Celso, a favourite of Scaloni however out of the World Cup due to damage, was missed in midfield. Heart again Nicolas Otamendi began towards Saudi Arabia, however Scaloni could go for Lisandro Martínez towards Mexico, given his enhancing type for Manchester United this season.

There was already a fragile look to Argentina’s protection within the first half, beneath restricted strain from the Saudis. That was uncovered all through the second half, forcing Messi to drop deeper in the hunt for the ball.

Messi insisted the day earlier than the sport that he was in fine condition, regardless of coaching individually two days final week and being pictured with padding round his proper ankle. He was nonetheless a pleasure to look at in Tuesday’s recreation with the ball at his ft and when given house however he discovered himself crowded out within the second half. At 35, he might discover it troublesome to play intense matches each 4 days on the World Cup.

Argentina has three days to kind issues out earlier than they return to Lusail stadium, the place the Saudis brought about one of many World Cup’s largest upsets, to play Mexico. The 89,000-seat stadium will even stage the World Cup last on Dec. 18,

Goalkeeper Emi Martinez mentioned that Argentina will go into the Mexico recreation as in the event that they had been enjoying for the title.

“Saturday is our first World Cup last,” he mentioned, including the early defeat could assist impress the group.

“If we wish to be world champions, it is good to have a stumble,” he mentioned. “A stumble just isn’t a fall.”

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AP World Cup protection: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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Steve Douglas is at https://twitter.com/sdouglas80

This story was initially printed November 23, 2022 5:47 AM.

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