Argentina, Uruguay

Copa America Team Preview: Argentina

Argentina is gearing up to defend their Copa America title that they won in 2021. Argentina was originally a participant in “the oldest national team tournament” back when it was called the South American Championship in 1916, and this will be their 43rd appearance. Led by their world cup-winning manager Lionel Scaloni, "La Albiceleste" (sky blues and whites) are on a quest to become the first team to successfully defend their Copa America title while holding the World Cup trophy. It's a lofty goal but if anyone can take this challenge head on its Lionel Messi and the Argentinians.

As is always the case when discussing the Argentinian national soccer team, all eyes will be on one player: Argentina’s most capped (180) active player and all-time leading scorer (106) Lionel Messi. Messi has won the Ballon d’Or a record eight times and has better than a goal-per-game in MLS this season, but he has chosen to compete at this prestigious and historic tournament above obligations to his club and the Olympics. Joining Messi will be his longtime Argentina teammate Angel Di Maria, who is Argentina’s second-most capped (138) active player nnd who scored the winning goal in Argentina's 2021 Copa America final win over Brazil.

In addition to the world’s best player, Argentina will field a roster loaded with players who start for teams in some of Europe’s most renowned leagues. This includes goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez (Aston Villa), defender Lisandro Martinez (Manchester United), midfielder Rodrigo De Paul (Atletico Madrid), and forwards Lautaro Martinez (Inter Milan) and Julian Alvarez (Manchester City). Let's break down the players that Argentina will take with them to Copa America 2024 by position.

Between the Sticks

Let’s start by taking a closer look at Emiliano Martinez, who is likely to be the starting goalkeeper for Argentina. In 38 caps for Argentina, Martinez has delivered 24 clean sheets (shutouts) for the Argentinian national team. Martinez just finished a season in the premier league with Aston Villa, where he played in all 34 of his team’s matches, registered nine clean sheets, and helped Aston Villa finish third in a very competitive premier league table.

However, the greatest thing ‘Emi’ has become known for is being reliable in penalty shootouts. He saved a penalty in the shootout of the 2022 World Cup final and saved three penalty kicks in a shootout victory over Colombia in the semifinals of the 2021 Copa America. When it comes to international soccer, Martinez has been a late bloomer, having earned his first cap at the 2021 Copa America at the age of 28, but the 31-year-old is the heart and soul of La Albiceleste and will be a big part of any success they will have.

The Argentine Backline

Now, the Argentine defense, or “backline,” as the soccer announcers like to call it. In terms of veteran leadership, it was recently reported that 32-year-old defender German Pezzella “is in good shape and is likely to be included in Argentina’s final squad.” Pezzella will be nothing more than a safety valve, however, as veterans Cristian Romero (Tottenham) and Nicolas Otamendi (Benfica) seem to be the favorites to start as center backs.

On the flanks, Gonzalo Montiel played in both of Argentina’s friendly tune-ups in June and seems like he’ll be the starting right-back. Left-back is between Marcos Acuna (Sevilla) and Nicolas Tagliafico (Olympique Lyon). Overall, there is a question mark or two surrounding this backline. It starts with, at the age of 36, will Otamendi be up to the task of keeping younger opponents at bay? Who will be the starting left back? We shall see if problems arise come tournament time.

The Heart of a Team is its Midfield

Now, we get to one of the deepest midfields in the tournament. What do you do with a midfield that is led by Angel Di María, who has 31 goals and 31 assists in 140 appearances for Argentina, and which also has players who play for some of Europe’s top clubs? Those players include Exequiel Palacios, who is coming off a breakout season with German Bundesliga champions Bayer Leverkusen and Chelsea’s Enzo Fernández. Both players have big tournament experience; Fernandez scored a goal and added an assist for Argentina at the 2022 World Cup, while Palacios made one start at the 2021 Copa America.

In addition, Rodrigo De Paul and Leandro Paredes come in having had the experience of playing in two previous Copa Americas, and that should help their cases to be in Scaloni’s starting eleven. Giovani Lo Celso (Tottenham) and Alexis Mac Allister are also threats to start in the midfield for the 'Sky Blue and Whites.' Lo Celso has 13 Copa America starts over the last two tournaments under his belt—with two goals and an assist while Mac Allister has made eight Copa America starts. Overall, the Argentinian midfield is very experienced and will be ready to do some damage at this year’s tournament.

Go West, Young Argentine

We all know about Messi’s accomplishments, but after a little digging, you find that there’s serious depth among the forwards that are on Argentina’s roster. For one, Angel Correa needed just 18 appearances to score nine goals for Atletico Madrid in La Liga this season. Then there’s Alejandro Garnacho, who, at 19, is the youngest player on Argentina’s roster and is coming off a season where he scored seven goals and provided five assists for Manchester United in the Premier League. Not too shabby.

Outperforming each of them was Nicolas Gonzalez, who scored 12 goals for Fiorentina this past season, and outperforming him was Lautaro Martinez, who shone above all Argentine internationals by scoring 24 goals in 31 appearances this season for Inter Milan in Serie A. Last but certainly not least is Lionel Messi. Messi has made mincemeat of Copa America defenders and has 12 goals and 17 assists in 31 Copa America starts to show for it. If Lautaro Martinez is the tip of the iceberg, then Messi is the larger part, and it remains to be seen which of Argentina’s Group A opponents will be sunk.

What’s Left for Argentina to Do?

Some may ask, ‘What is left for Argentina to accomplish? They’re tied for the most Copa America titles with Uruguay and are reigning World Cup champions. Wouldn’t that be enough to allow Argentina to take their foot off the pedal a little bit? The answer is no; they will never be satisfied until they achieve the ultimate goal. Argentina's goal is to win their 16th Copa America title, which would mean they would stand alone as the winningest team in the history of this 108-year-old international soccer tournament and become the first team in history to defend their Copa America title while simultaneously holding the World Cup trophy. They're going to try their best to do it.

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Anthony Paradiso
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