Our World Cup Fantasy team previews continue with a look at Argentina, who are among the favourites to win it all.
The Albiceleste were in action on Wednesday, defeating United Arab Emirates 5-0 in their final pre-tournament friendly.
In these country-by-country guides, we’ll be looking at the best players from each nation, taking a stab at predicted line-ups, reviewing the road to Qatar and more.
To do this, we’ll be calling on the help of correspondents from each nation.
All prices given are from the official FIFA World Cup Fantasy game.
THE ROAD TO QUALIFICATION
Not only were Argentina unbeaten during qualification but they are on the verge of breaking the all-time international record. Just one more match will equal Italy’s recent 37-match streak.
This includes the glory of winning last year’s Copa America, ensuring that Lionel Messi ($10.5m) will retire having secured at least one major trophy for the Albiceleste.
Three years unbeaten alongside two new trophies have created a feeling of invincibility, especially as they only conceded twice during their final 10 qualifiers. So comfortable was both theirs and Brazil’s route to Qatar, they decided not to bother replaying the bizarrely suspended match where health officials stormed onto the pitch to accuse Argentine players of breaking Covid quarantine rules. So, 17 qualifiers were played rather than 18.
- Most starts: Rodrigo De Paul (16), Nicolas Otamendi (15)
- Most goals: Lionel Messi (7), Lautaro Martinez (7)
- Most assists: Giovani Lo Celso (5), Lautaro Martinez (3), Rodrigo De Paul (3)
- Clean sheets: 10 from 17
RECORD SINCE QUALIFYING
In June, Argentina won the ‘Finalissima’ against Italy 3-0 at Wembley with an utterly dominant performance, and that good form has continued with successive friendly wins over Estonia, Honduras, Jamaica and UAE.
A total of 19 goals have been scored without reply post-qualification, with Messi responsible for 10 of them.
|1 June 2022||Finalissima||Italy||0-3||Argentina||La. Martinez, Di Maria, Dybala|
|5 June 2022||Friendly||Argentina||5-0||Estonia||Messi x5|
|23 September||Friendly||Argentina||3-0||Honduras||La. Martinez, Messi x2|
|27 September||Friendly||Jamaica||0-3||Argentina||Alvarez, Messi x2|
|16 November||Friendly||UAE||0-5||Argentina||Alvarez, Di Maria x2, Messi, Correa|
MOST RECENT INTERNATIONAL LINE-UPS
24/09/2022 – Argentina 3-0 Honduras (Martinez, Messi x2)
(4-4-2) Rulli; Molina, Pezzella, Li. Martinez, Tagliafico; Lo Celso, Paredes, De Paul, Papu Gomez; Messi, La. Martinez
28/09/2022 – Argentina 3-0 Jamaica (Alvarez, Messi x2)
(4-4-2) Em. Martinez; Montiel, Romero, Otamendi, Tagliafico; Lo Celso, Rodriguez, Mac Allister, Di Maria; Alvarez, La. Martinez
16/11/2022 – Argentina 5-0 UAE
HOW FAR WILL THEY GET?
“Semi-finals at least, possibly winners. After semis, the variance is way too high.” – Ashish Sangai
“Besides having the marvellous Messi in their ranks, Argentina have slowly but steadily rebuilt their squad. They do not have the global stars that the likes of Brazil or England have, but have manufactured a team that anyone should take caution of. Argentina have a kinder draw than most, and given the quality they have as individuals and as a team, I expect them to advance to the semi-finals at least.” – Yash Madhan
“Strong cohesion, united in a common goal and very good balance – and, of course, Lionel Messi.” – Ashish Sangai
“Argentina have an uncanny underdog quality, almost Italian like. They pride themselves in a stingy, staunch defence that are always putting heart, body and soul on the line before letting the ball cross it. They are happy to sit back and absorb the opponents’ attacks and hit them hard on the break. Given that they are capable of sitting back, that doesn’t mean they always do so – against the smaller teams they are constantly attacking. Their quality attack is gifted with the textbook mix of chance creation and clinical finishing. Argentina can win the game with or without the ball – and this is what sets them apart as my ‘favourite underdog’.” – Yash Madhan
“Not so much a weakness but it’s not the lethal gung-ho attack of the old Argentine days. It’s a much more balanced team, with Messi dropping deeper.” – Ashish Sangai
“Argentina in recent years have longed for a big, strong centre-forward to whom they can just lump the ball up to, allowing the team to get up the pitch whilst he holds the ball up to bring others into play. The biggest showing of this was in the 2014 final itself; a goal down, chasing in the dying embers of extra time, playing Hail Mary balls over the top only for the German defenders to have a practice session in clearing headers. In my opinion, the Argentines haven’t yet rectified this issue – so should the possibility arise of Argentina chasing a game, getting through a low-block style of defence can be a hypothetical problem. Then again, they have a player who’s come up, beaten and embarrassed every type of defence possible – so who knows?” – Yash Madhan
THE KEY FANTASY TARGETS
There may have been more star-studded Argentina squads in the past but they can still offer us a number of decent options in each position, especially in attack.
Widely regarded as the greatest player of all time, Lionel Messi needs no introduction. The $10.5m forward is his country’s record goalscorer and won the Golden Ball award in 2014, when the Albiceleste made it to the World Cup final.
With Argentina kicking off their tournament against relative minnows Saudi Arabia, you would expect Messi to be amongst the goals and assists, especially being on penalties.
We could use any number of stats to underscore his threat but how about this: in Argentina’s two pre-tournament friendlies before the UAE game, Messi racked up nine shots and 12 penalty area touches in just 122 minutes of pitch-time.
Lautaro Martinez (£8.0m), however, is a cheaper alternative – or addition – who matched Messi for qualifying goals, also netting when his country beat Italy in the ‘Finalissima’ back in July.
He was an unused substitute in Argentina’s final World Cup warm-up match against UAE but had only been in action for club Inter three days previously, so was, by all accounts, merely being rested.
An attacking double-up in Matchday 1 isn’t completely out of the question, given both players’ appeal.
“Lautaro is an absolute steal in terms of value, as he is the only recognised striker in a very fluid frontline which includes the magical left pegs of both Messi and Di Maria. In terms of creativity, it doesn’t get much better than that for a striker. Selected by just 6,9% of managers at the time of writing, he puts his hand up as a very dependable differential and a cheaper way into that Argentine attack.” – Yash Maghan
In midfield, Angel Di Maria ($8.5m) is the standout name but Rodrigo De Paul ($5.0m) is an intriguing budget-freeing pick. He has limited goal and assist threat but is cheap and should do well for tackles and key passes.
Argentina’s defence is also worthy of investment.
The legs of Nicolas Otamendi ($5.0m) may be creaking at 34 years old but he looks good to start at centre-half and carries a bit of goal threat from set-pieces, while Emiliano Martinez ($5.5m) could also be a decent pick, now belatedly added to the game.
The Aston Villa shot-stopper made three penalty saves in the Copa America semi-final shootout against Colombia and could be a shrewd pick. Indeed, he has kept 13 clean sheets and conceded just five goals in his 18 caps. Given the limited attacking threat of his group-stage opponents – Saudi Arabia, Mexico and Poland – there is potential to do well.