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CONGRATULATIONS ARGENTINA!

today20/01/2023 2

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Despite the orchestrated effort to politicize the first-ever FIFA Senior Men’s World Cup Finals to be hosted in the Middle East, the Arabic nation stood its ground, generally speaking, and delivered a fantastic tournament worthy to be emulated in years to come.

It might not have been the best tournament ever in terms of technical and high-quality play, but it will go down as one of the most exciting, as it had all the ingredients of any blockbuster movie.

And as fate would have it, a number of teams which attended the party got ditched early as they appeared to expend more energy in their political agendas rather than on the football pitches. They seemed to conflate the World Cup Finals with the United Nations.

Fortunately, the action on the field of play was so good that it commanded the headlines and slowly but surely left the politics floundering.

At the end of the day South America’s Argentina emerged victorious after edging defending champions France in a penalty shootout in the most fitting finale to all the drama and excitement.

Argentina, led by the mercurial Lionel Messi, led 2-0 with 80 minutes gone, only for Kylian Mbappe to find two late strikes to force 30 minutes of extra time.

Messi, the 35-year-old all-time great playing in his fifth and final World Cup tournament, put his team 3-2 ahead in extra time, only for Mbappe to score his second penalty of the game, and only the second hat-trick in World Cup Final history, behind England’s Geoff Hurst in 1966.

It was Argentina’s first World Cup triumph in 36 years and its third following victories in 1978 and 1986, when the late great Diego Armando Maradona was the star player.

Messi is arguably the best player of the modern generation, and a man with arguably the best football CV, having won the FIFA Under-20 World Cup, Olympic Games gold medal, the 2021 Copa America title, and now the FIFA World Cup to go with seven and soon to be eight Ballon D’or honors and a host of club titles.

He won the Golden Ball for the tournament’s best player, the first player to do so twice, as he was clearly the talisman for the South Americans.

But there was another Lionel, who deserves just as much credit, though he was not on the field of play. That Lionel is Scaloni, the 44-year-old rookie coach who took over in 2018, after being a member of the Argentina coaching staff as a scout of future opponents. He had no senior coaching experience.

But he went about his task with diligence, first aping France before tweaking his approach to eventually build what is now a championship team in just four years.

Scaloni at his first attempt in a tournament took Argentina to the semi-finals of the 2019 Copa America tournament where they lost 0-2 to eventual champions Brazil.

But they went on a run of 36 games unbeaten since then, before having their colors lowered 1-2 by Saudi Arabia in it World Cup opener.

Scaloni’s impact on this team cannot and should not go unnoticed, especially during the seven games in Qatar. The fact that his side was fortunate enough to get five penalties in seven games did him no harm, but he showed throughout that he was prepared to make changes and he found solutions to problems whenever Argentina was asked serious questions in moments of games.

After being embarrassed in the first game, Scaloni never hesitated to jettison his preferred striker Lautaru Martinez with the energetic Julian Alvarez, who eventually notched four goals, including two in the semi-final victory over Croatia.

He brought in Enzo Fernandez in central midfield, and everything clicked from then on. When he replaced Angel Di Maria with Nahuel Molina, the right-sided player came up trumps to score immediately.

There was an occasion when the preferred centerback Cristian Romero was also benched after a poor performance before being reinstated at a later date.

Scaloni and his technical staff were also flexible in switching from a back four to a back three when the necessity arose, and on each occasion, it paid off.

His move to reinstate Di Maria in the starting line up in the final was also a masterstroke. And not only did he employ Di Maria in a starting role, but he played him in an orthodox left-wing position, rather than the inverted right-wing position he had been used prior.

The end result, Di Maria won the penalty which Messi converted to give Argentina the lead, and before long he slotted past Hugo Lloris to make it 2-0.

Those were contributions which went a long way toward championship honours.

So as much as Messi with seven goals, and his support cast were brilliant, Scaloni was the brain behind everything as he also provided the atmosphere for the aging Messi to thrive while at the same time enabling the support cast to buy in to giving their sweat and blood for their idol Messi, who clearly never had the young legs to cover grounds on the defensive end as much as he did before and as he would have like.

In the end all the players were rowing in the same direction, which ultimately concluded with the team’s third star on their crest.

Congratulations to all concerned.

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