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Argentina Copa America preview - prediction, fixtures, squad, star player

Ahead of this summer's Copa America tournament, Sports Mole previews Argentina's chances as they seek a first title in 28 years.

Having lost their co-host credentials to arch-rivals Brazil at the last minute due to the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, Argentina will be forced to seek an end to their protracted silverware drought on foreign soil this summer.

On the eve of another major tournament, things are looking all too familiar for this Argentina side that, despite being awash with attacking talent, lacks any real cutting edge to their game.

Argentina's Leandro Paredes celebrates scoring their second goal with teammates on June 8, 2021© Reuters

Although on paper La Albiceleste are one of the continent's two major football powerhouses, Argentina have failed to win the Copa America in almost 30 years, with their last win coming all the way back in 1993.

However, under the stewardship of the young manager Lionel Scaloni, Argentina have sought to banish the failures of the past by going back to basics and building a team that complements the qualities of Lionel Messi instead of one that depends too heavily on the Barcelona megastar.

Finishing in third place in the 2019 Copa America, La Albiceleste will be aiming for the top spot once again this time around and will also no doubt be keen to stick one to the Selecao in the process.

Here, Sports Mole assesses Argentina's chances at the Copa America.


GROUP

Argentina will be expected to progress from Group B, which comprises nations from the continent's southern bloc.

Copa America Group A

However, Scaloni's men arguably have a much harder task than their neighbours Brazil, with La Albiceleste having to face tough tests against the likes of Uruguay, Paraguay and Chile.

Bolivia are at risk of being the whipping boys of Group B, but on their day they can definitely punish sides who do not give them the respect they deserve, with skipper Marcelo Moreno more than capable of poaching goals.

FIXTURES

June 14: Argentina vs. Chile (10pm BST, Olympic Stadium, Rio de Janeiro)
June 19: Argentina vs. Uruguay (1am BST, Estadio Nacional de Brasilia, Brasilia)
June 22: Argentina vs. Paraguay (1am BST, Estadio Nacional de Brasilia, Brasilia)
June 29: Bolivia vs. Argentina (1am BST, Arena Pantanal, Cuiaba)


RECENT FORM

Argentina are currently enjoying a 13-game unbeaten run that extends all the way back to the 2019 Copa America semi-final, in which they were beaten 2-0 by rivals Brazil.

This incredible streak tends to be attributed to the management of Scaloni, who has impressed since taking charge of the national team, but a lot should be said about how the players have risen to the occasion in recent years too.

Colombia's Yerry Mina is shown a yellow card by referee Roberto Tobar as Argentina's Emiliano Martinez sustains an injury on June 8, 2021© Reuters

Regardless of the streak, Argentina have still managed to attract criticism from those that question the style in which the team grind out results.

For instance, Argentina have only won one game in their last four outings, a 2-0 win over Peru in November 2020.

Most recently, La Albiceleste drew against Chile and Colombia, meaning they actually come into this tournament without having won a game in 2021.


SQUAD

Argentina line up during the national anthems before the match on June 8, 2021© Reuters

Goalkeepers: Franco Armani (River Plate), Emiliano Martinez (Aston Villa), Agustin Marchesin (Porto) and Juan Musso (Udinese)

Defenders: Gonzalo Montiel (River Plate), Nicolas Otamendi (Benfica), German Pezzella (Fiorentina), Lucas Martinez Quarta (Fiorentina), Nicolas Tagliafico (Ajax), Lisandro Martinez (Ajax), Marcos Acuna (Sevilla), Cristian Romero (Atalanta), Nahuel Molina Lucero (Udinese)

Midfielders: Leandro Paredes (Paris Saint-Germain), Angel Di Maria (Paris Saint-Germain), Guido Rodriguez (Betis), Giovani Lo Celso (Tottenham), Exequiel Palacios (Bayer Leverkusen), Nicolas Gonzalez (Stuttgart), Rodrigo De Paul (Udinese), Alejandro Gomez (Sevilla), Angel Correa (Atletico Madrid), Nicolas Dominguez (Bologna)

Forwards: Lionel Messi (Barcelona), Lautaro Martinez (Inter Milan), Joaquin Correa (Lazio), Lucas Alario (Bayer Leverkusen) and Sergio Aguero (Barcelona)


STAR PLAYER - Lionel Messi

Argentina's Lionel Messi during the match on June 9, 2021© Reuters

A definite perk for Argentina is that they are captained by arguably the best footballer on the planet, despite it sometimes feeling like the Barcelona forward's brilliance does not readily translate into the prosperity of Argentinian football.

Regardless of the strange and often flawed dynamic between Messi and the national setup, the Rosario-born forward has certainly put in more than his fair share of shifts for La Albiceleste over the years.

In the team's current World Cup qualification campaign, for instance, Messi's goals alone have contributed four points to the cause, and he offers so much to the team in a wider context too.

However, at 33-years-old, Messi has entered the twilight of his career, and there will only be so many opportunities now for the forward to really harness his talents for the greater good and give the millions of Argentinian superfans what they want - international honours in the form of a Copa America and, more significantly, a World Cup.

As for the next generation, Inter Milan's Lautaro Martinez looks set to assume the coveted mantle left by Messi when the Barca man finally hangs up his boots. Definitely one to watch this summer.


MANAGER - Lionel Scaloni

Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni after the match on June 8, 2021© Reuters

Following Argentina's early World Cup exit in 2018, when the team were beaten 4-3 by France in the round of 16, a bruising inquest was held and manager Jorge Sampaoli was abruptly fired, which was a low moment for the national team.

In a series of events that exhibit shades of Gareth Southgate's rise to prominence, Argentina's FA decided to appoint Sampaoli's deputy Scaloni, a former professional right-back who had a short stint at West Ham United back in 2006.

As with Southgate and England, Scaloni was appointed more out of sheer desperation than anything else, with there being a dearth of high-quality candidates in the country who could realistically make an impact in the role.

Yet, it was not long before it became clear to many Argentina fans that the appointment had been the correct decision, with La Albiceleste performing well at the 2019 Copa America and coming in third place.

Confirmed as permanent head coach after the tournament, Scaloni has continued to impress in recent years and now the team look to be genuine contenders for the cup this summer.


COPA AMERICA RECORD

Best finish: Winners (1921, 1925, 1927, 1937, 1941, 1945, 1946, 1947, 1055, 1957, 1959, 1991, 1993)

rgentina midfielder Lionel Messi (10) celebrates with teammates after scoring during the first half against the United States in the semifinals of the 2016 Copa America Centenario soccer tournament at NRG Stadium© Reuters

There are two main things to be gleaned from Argentina's stellar Copa America pedigree. Firstly, the team have won the competition an outrageous number of times, and secondly, periods of sustained dominance are frequently balanced out by periods of mediocrity.

With 14 wins to their name, just one behind tournament leaders Uruguay, Argentina have long since established themselves as continental heavyweights, but the eras of inferiority are what fans typically use to judge the team.

Since their last Copa America victory in 1993, La Albiceleste have reached the final four times, but have bottled the win on each occasion.

Gabriel Batistuta, the man known as Batigol, therefore remains the last Argentine to score a winning goal in a major tournament final after the forward scored a brace against Mexico in 1993.

The win meant La Albiceleste made it back-to-back Copa America titles for the third time in their history.


PREDICTION

Blessed with some of the finest attacking talent in the world, there is no reason why Argentina cannot win this tournament, but there is also no reason why Argentina have not won a tournament since 1993.

Perhaps it is general misfortune, perhaps it is a lack of nerve in big games, or perhaps it is the nation's over-reliance on Messi and lack of world-class defensive players, whatever Argentina's problem has been in recent years, the issues have not fundamentally been resolved by Scaloni and that is why Brazil are more likely to win this tournament.

We expect Argentina to go the distance this summer, but we think they will fall at the final hurdle.

VERDICT: Runners-up

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