The headlines following Argentina and their Copa America victory will undoubtedly be on Lionel Messi finally winning an international trophy, and rightly so. But despite Messi’s fantastic tournament, it took a very well-drilled, cohesive team full of talented players to take home that elusive trophy.
Coach Lionel Scaloni built a team that had an excellent variety of players and playing styles that complemented each other, and through that, constructed a very balanced team. And with Messi as its leader, that team was able to overcome the odds and beat Brazil to win the tournament.
Argentina Find Perfect Blend of Youth and Experience During Copa America Triumph
The Old Guard Still Going Strong
While some of the new youngsters were able to rejuvenate the team, they were still led by their old reliables. Messi tops that list of course, but Angel Di Maria, Sergio Aguero, and Nicolas Otamendi all made big contributions to Argentina’s Copa America victory.
Messi’s impact does not need to be explained. Four goals, five assists (a competition record) and a clean sweep of the individual awards for outfield players, winning both top goalscorer and Player of the Tournament.
He led this team to where they are now and deserves all the accolades he gets as he basks in the glory of finally bringing a trophy to his country, including what will now surely be his seventh Ballon d’Or.
Di Maria was also one of the main leaders of this team, having a tremendous impact throughout the Copa America. Despite being better than Nico Gonzalez, he got the role of super-sub for much of the tournament.
While many players could simply give up and lose confidence at this stage, that’s just not Angel Di Maria. He thrived all tournament and brought life to the team in the second half. After finally getting a start in the final, he more than repaid his manager’s faith in him, scoring a sensational winning goal, and winning the Man of the Match award as a result.
Aguero, despite not playing much, put in some decent performances. His link-up with Messi, was slightly bit rusty but still deadly, as shown by his excellent assist to his best friend against Bolivia. They’ll have plenty of time to work on that next season at Barcelona.
And in terms of silencing his critics, nobody did that better than Otamendi. For both club and country, the centre-back has had to deal with heavy criticism all the time, and after a poor start to the Copa America, many Argentina fans were calling for the promising but inexperienced Lisandro Martinez to start in his place.
However, Scaloni kept his faith in Otamendi, and the veteran repaid him. He’s not fast, and his positioning isn’t the best, but he’s strong, excellent in the air, and a very commanding presence at the back.
Di Maria, Aguero and Messi all won the Olympic Gold together in 2008, with Otamendi not far behind, making his Argentina debut just a year later. The journey these four have taken together has been tremendous. They’ve suffered all the heartbreak, but now can revel in the sheer delight and ecstasy together, knowing full well how much it took to finally get there.
Newer, Less Experienced Players Brought Life to Argentina
As important as the senior players were, Argentina would not have won the Copa America without some key new players.
And no recent debutante was more important than Emiliano Martinez. After Sergio Romero’s unceremonious exit from the national team, Argentina had desperately been searching for a new, reliable keeper to employ.
Willy Caballero ended up being a disaster, and after his horrendous error against Croatia in the 2018 World Cup, never saw the pitch again. Franco Armani was then brought in, and he was solid but has his clear deficiencies. The same goes for other veterans like Augusto Marchesin and Juan Musso.
Enter Martinez. After being an afterthought and a backup at Arsenal for ten years, a major injury to Bernd Leno thrust him into the spotlight, and he performed better than anyone could’ve predicted. His excellent performances earned him a move to Aston Villa last summer, where he became one of the best keepers in arguably the best league in the world.
Many Argentina fans were confident they’d finally found their man, and he did not disappoint. In fact, once again, he performed better than anyone could’ve predicted. He had a very solid campaign, for the most part, instilling a sense of security in the backline that they hadn’t felt in years.
But in the semi-finals against Colombia, his moment came to make himself a hero, and he stepped up. He not only saved three penalties in a shootout, but he dominated the Colombian players, getting in their heads and winning the mental battle. The same team that scored all five penalties against top goalkeeper Fernando Muslera just three days prior were only able to convert two against Martinez, who deservedly picked up the Golden Glove.
The same issue at the goalkeeper position after Sergio Romero was virtually identical to the centre-back position after Javier Mascherano’s retirement. Here, Cristian Romero, fresh off of an excellent season with Atalanta, stabilised the team as well.
After a bright start to the tournament, he suffered two injuries in a week and was forced to miss the last four games before the final. Still clearly injured, he wouldn’t let it get in his way, and started anyway.
He lasted 80 minutes and made some key contributions to the match. Whereas Otamendi is more of a rough and aggressive type, Romero is the composed, positional expert who’s always in the right place to mop up, and the two complemented each other perfectly.
As well as Romero, Rodrigo De Paul put in a brilliant display against Brazil. He was everywhere and did both sides of the game so well. He was so good that, even with Di Maria scoring the winning goal, it seemed harsh for De Paul not to be given Man of the Match.
Leandro Paredes also had a solid game as the holding midfielder, as did right-back Gonzalo Montiel, midfielder Giovanni Lo Celso and Lautaro Martinez up top.
Messi and the old guard knew this was one of their last opportunities to win a trophy. But in order to do so, they also knew they needed to rely on their exciting new players as well. Together, they combined to form a perfect combination of experience and youth, and through that, Argentina won their first Copa America in 26 years.