It’s been a good long while since I last posted here, but after so many years waiting to write that headline I had to write something. Argentina ended a 28-year wait for a trophy at full international level on Saturday night, and did it in the manner every Argentine fan had dreamed of: in the Maracanã, against Brazil. With a wonderful pass from Rodrigo De Paul and a lightning run and excellent finish from one of the most maligned players of the last decade in the national team (including by me!), Ángel Di María.
Teams of superstars had been tried, and the AFA burnt through so many managers that after the 2018 World Cup exit they had to go with the just about the only person who’d agree to be employed by them. But Lionel Scaloni started to gain the team’s confidence during the 2019 Copa, when they went from ordinary to an interesting team for the future over the course of the tournament, finishing third. The defence still isn’t the finished article (although on Saturday night it was good enough to keep out the second best attack in the tournament on their own turf), but working on that will feel much less burdensome without the suffocating pressure of no title won during the lifetime of various squad members, and the midfield and attack work better together than they have for years. Emiliano Martínez, who missed his daughter’s birth shortly before the semi-final with Colombia, has come from nowhere (in the world of the Argentine media conversation) to become the owner of the first-choice goalkeeping role.
Finally, a paragraph apart for Lionel Messi. Scaloni revealed after the match that the captain had carried a hamstring injury through the semi and the final, which would explain his reduced mobility. Even so, he did enough over the course of the tournament to be undeniably the best player, and has finally lifted the international trophy his legacy probably never really needed, but which he’s spent his career wanting above everything else. Given his age, it might prove his last opportunity to have a real impact in a title-winning Argentina side, and he seized it with both hands. He ends the Copa as Argentina’s all-time top competitive goalscorer (he already had the record including friendlies, of course; his free kick in the 1–1 draw with Chile in the group stage sent him past Gabriel Batistuta in competitive goals and Juan Román Riquelme for free kick goals for his country), their all-time appearance maker (he passed Javier Mascherano during the group stage) and the Copa’s joint-highest appearance holder, level with the Chilean Sergio Livingstone on 34 matches. Assuming he’s not scored his last goal for his country yet, his next one will put him level with Pelé on 77 goals as the highest scoring South American man in international football (though still a long way from Martha’s 109).
If you’re Argentine, or just an Argentina fan, and whether you’ve followed this blog and my Twitter posts and (ongoing!) podcast for years or are just stumbling across it now: ¡felicitaciones!