Argentina used two matches in March to host a celebration. Panama and Curacao got here down to assist the newly topped World Cup champions rejoice December’s triumph in Qatar. However time strikes ever onwards and this month’s FIFA dates — the final earlier than World Cup qualification kicks off — see Argentina take the primary, tentative steps in the direction of 2026.
The problem forward is immense. Solely two international locations have ever efficiently defended the world title — Italy in 1938 and Brazil in 1962 — and each received the second title on their house continent. Three years from now, then, Argentina will probably be making an attempt to make historical past. And on earlier proof, defending the title is difficult on the Argentine psyche.
The danger of dropping standing, of getting a a lot cherished trophy taken away from them, has meant that Argentina’s campaigns of 1982 and 1990 have been each marked by an impending sense of tragedy. That second time, 33 years in the past in Italy, it nearly felt as if the staff have been fuelled all the way in which to the ultimate (the place they misplaced to West Germany) by a sentiment of “everybody’s in opposition to us” bitterness, on the centre of which have been the efforts of famous person Diego Maradona to beat the bodily limitations of a broken ankle.
This time, for the second at the least, all of it revolves round Lionel Messi. Will he, will not he? He’ll play in opposition to Australia in China on Thursday. However then he goes off on vacation and won’t function subsequent Tuesday in opposition to Indonesia. The actual query, in fact, is whether or not he will probably be in motion within the subsequent World Cup, throughout the course of which he’ll flip 39.
Speaking to Chinese outlet Titan Sports on Tuesday when requested about enjoying on the 2026 World Cup, Messi mentioned: “I feel not. [Qatar] was my final World Cup. I am going to see how issues go, however as it’s proper now, no, I will not go to the subsequent World Cup.”
However this isn’t a traditional participant, and the traditional guidelines don’t apply. Messi’s skillset is so huge that even with the inevitable bodily decline he can nonetheless discover a technique to be helpful. This situation isn’t going to go away. It is going to be alive proper up-to-the-minute when coach Lionel Scaloni — or whoever is accountable for the nationwide staff on the time — names his squad in Might of 2026.
Scaloni has mentioned that there’s a place within the squad for Messi if he desires it, and he has provided the identical assure to Angel Di Maria. A real famous person with out the ego to match, Di Maria has come up huge for Argentina when it issues time and time once more — maybe greater than ever within the World Cup last, when he ran the French defenders ragged. Six months youthful than Messi, Di Maria will probably be 38 on the time of the subsequent World Cup. However it’s in all probability tougher to think about him nonetheless on worldwide responsibility in 2026. The lack of acceleration velocity will certainly take away a lot of his efficiency.
And if Messi, anyway, is irreplaceable, Scaloni can at the least go searching and see wingers with the potential to tip the steadiness in three years time. Considered one of them is Alejandro Garnacho. Scaloni has mentioned that he’s wanting ahead to seeing the Manchester United vast man in motion over the subsequent few days. Placing down a marker for the longer term, Scaloni has included Garnacho in earlier squads. However now the intense enterprise of the World Cup — and its celebrations in March — is prior to now, this will probably be his first alternative to point out what he can do.
A part of the haste to incorporate him comes from the truth that Garnacho may signify Spain, as he did at youth stage. However his mom is from Argentina, and Garnacho says that he has at all times felt an affinity with the nation of her beginning. Now that he has proven indicators of immense promise with United, his change of footballing nationalities is a sensitive topic with the Spanish press, who’ve mocked the participant’s considerably compelled makes an attempt this week to change his Madrid accent for a extra operatic, Italianate model of the language as spoken in Argentina. There will probably be extra like Garnacho. After the nation’s financial crash of 2001 many left in quest of a greater life elsewhere, and the sons of this era of the diaspora are on the radar of the Argentina aspect.
In the meantime, Brighton winger Facundo Buonanotte additionally waits for his worldwide debut. However for the second, at the least, he would appear to be behind Garnacho within the pecking order. There are additionally call-ups for a few France-based centre backs — Lucas Balerdi of Marseille, who performed a few video games within the early days of the Scaloni regime, whereas Facundo Medina of Lens has been promoted from the 2021 Olympic staff. Medina’s capacity to play on the left aspect of the defence makes him a candidate to interchange the veteran Nico Otamendi, nonetheless named within the squad however certainly with little likelihood of constructing all of it the way in which to 2026.
Basically, then, Argentina face Australia — simply over six months after what was a dramatic round-of-16 thriller in Qatar — with their World Cup stars, plus a few attention-grabbing additions. Scaloni is presumably on the lookout for a delicate transition on the way in which to constructing a aspect for 2026 — so suave that he can maybe persuade Messi to come back alongside for the trip.