Will Argentina Repeat as Copa América Champions?

The Argentinian national team has conquered international football in the last few years. After clinching their first continental title since 1993 by triumphing at the 2021 Copa América, La Albiceleste won the biggest trophy of them all in 2022 – the World Cup.

A year and a half on from that magical night in Lusail, the euphoria is still fresh in Argentinians’ minds. The globe hasn’t stopped spinning since, though, and in the blink of an eye, another major competition awaits for Lionel Messi and company, as they look to defend their Copa América title this summer in the United States.

How Has the Team Looked Since the World Cup?

It is not uncommon for successful national teams to see their results plummet in the aftermath of a major triumph. This has not been the case with Argentina, however. Their only competitive matches since the World Cup, aside from a 3-0 thumping of Italy in the inaugural Finalissima, have come in qualifying for the next World Cup, ironically enough. CONMEBOL’s qualifying system is widely considered the toughest in the world, as it pits all ten confederation members against each other in a double round-robin system.

Argentina have no interest in taking their foot off the gas. After six matchdays, the world champions sit top of the qualification table with five wins and just one loss. They’ve looked incredibly impressive throughout, conceding just two goals, both in a 2-0 defeat to Uruguay. All the while, attacking output has been solid, with eight goals scored by five different players. Messi still leads the pack with three goals, but Argentina aren’t entirely reliant on him, a promising sign as the legend gets older. They’ve sent a statement of intent to the doubters, especially with their 1-0 defeat of Brazil last November.

Argentina’s Path to a Title Defence

This year’s Copa América is a little different from past iterations. It mirrors most closely the centennial edition in 2016, which was also hosted by the United States and featured six qualifiers from the North American confederation, CONCACAF. The tournament will follow an identical format this year, meaning the Argentines can expect good competition throughout. When they won it in 2021, La Albiceleste played in front of empty stands and exclusively against South American opposition, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The defending champions have been drawn into Group A along with Peru, Chile and Canada. They’re the clear favorites to top the group, having already taken down the Peruvians 2-0 in World Cup qualifying. Chile sit 8th on the table in those very same qualifiers, and have a far worse squad than they did when they took down Argentina on penalties in back-to-back Copa finals in 2015 and 2016.

As for Canada, they’re still fairly new to the mainstream international football landscape. They qualified for just their second World Cup in 2022 and finished 4th in their group with three defeats. Les Rouges had to come through a playoff round in order to clinch one of the final two Copa América spots, defeating Trinidad and Tobago 2-0.

Should Argentina advance past the group, they’ll cross paths with a Group B side in the quarterfinals. Mexico and Ecuador are the likely opposition, with Jamaica and Venezuela the outsiders in that group. This is an ideal draw for Lionel Scaloni’s side, as they would be the clear-cut favorites in any potential clash. They faced Mexico in the World Cup and triumphed 2-0. In the meantime, they’ve also taken down Ecuador twice, once in a qualifier and most recently in a friendly.

A Title-Contending Squad

Argentina has been blessed with a direct path to the semifinals of this summer’s tournament. They also have the benefit of a five-day rest between the group stage and the knockout stage. In other words, the stars are aligning for yet another major trophy. Scaloni has a full strength squad at his disposal, with a mix of experience (Messi, Nicolás Otamendi, Ángel Di María, etc) and youth (Valentín Barco, Valentín Carboni, Alejandro Garnacho, etc.) available in most every position. The squad depth of the team is second to none. They have a rock-solid defence, a complete midfield and a clinical attack.

World Cup standouts Emiliano Martínez, Enzo Fernández and Julián Álvarez return to the frame for the Copa América and their performance will be crucial to Argentina’s success. Martínez is slightly out of form, Fernández is recovering from an injury and Álvarez struggled with lack of play time at Manchester City. These remain the biggest question marks for Scaloni and his assistants to assess, as each of the aforementioned trio is currently slated to start at the Copa.

Importance of the Friendly Slate

Luckily, Argentina scheduled two preparatory friendlies to aid in preparation for the tournament. Their first fixture in the US, a 1-0 win over Ecuador in Chicago last Sunday, saw Martínez, Álvarez and Fernández all get playing time. Despite some shaky moments, Martínez earned a clean sheet, making a few daring interventions to keep his lines clear. Álvarez had a quiet game, registering just one touch in Ecuador’s box, but completed 26 of the 28 passes he attempted.

In a 34-minute shift off the bench, Fernández made a couple impressive passes into the final third but otherwise sank into the background. After a serious groin injury and subsequent surgery, however, his performance against Ecuador is a step in the right direction. Scaloni spoke to Extratime Talk on the matter, noting that the coaching staff “were quite concerned because of the surgery” and that Enzo is “not quite at his level.” The plan is to give the midfielder more minutes in the next game “so that we can see if he’ll be with us at the beginning of the Copa.” Whether the Chelsea man is ready or not, Scaloni is “happy with his progress.”

The standout performer of the match with Ecuador was undoubtedly Ángel Di María, who scored the game’s only goal with a delightful low-footed finish. He was unlucky to come away with just the one goal, as he rattled the crossbar with a free kick shortly after earning Argentina the lead. Lionel Messi came off the bench and looked bright, reaffirming that La Albiceleste‘s veteran core is ready for another tournament run.

Very little can happen between now and the opening match of the Copa on 20th June that could threaten Argentina’s status as title favorites. One last tuneup against Guatemala awaits before the tournament kicks off. The Argentines are heavily favored in the clash, which will serve to boost their already-high confidence. All in all, it seems likelier than not that Lionel Messi will be raising yet another trophy come July, this time in the city of Miami, his new home.

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