It came as a shock, though not necessarily as a surprise, to learn that neither Paulo Dybala or Mauro Icardi is guaranteed a seat on Argentina’s plane to the FIFA World Cup in Russia this summer.
National team coach Jorge Sampaoli’s praise of the Serie A duo has been lukewarm at best since he took charge last June, and yesterday he confirmed that there is a chance he could decide to omit both of them from his final squad:
“It is complicated for him [Dybala] to get used to our plan,” he explained. “We couldn’t improve his performances and we have to evaluate if the current players are better than Paulo or if we’ve to keep working with Paulo to improve his performance.
“The connection between Icardi’s performances for Inter and Argentina wasn’t the best. I realised that and felt that we have to work on it more. But we don’t have enough time. Maybe his adaptation time is not a short one. I won’t dismiss him but, as Argentina’s coach, I have to focus on the partnerships on the pitch.”
It would be a massive call were the former Chile and Sevilla boss to opt not to include either of them, especially given the fact they 22 and 17 goals apiece in Italy’s top flight this season.
Though Boca Juniors winger Cristian Pavón and Racing Club striker Lautaro Martínez have been in terrific form in recent months, it must be considered a risk for Sampaoli to place his trust in them rather than two forwards who are used to competing at the very highest level.
The 58-year-old Casilda native will no doubt come to live or die by his decision, one way or another. Pavón and Martínez could prove to be inspired choices, in which case he will come up smelling of roses. Failure to progress to the latter stages of the tournament and an entire nation will be calling for his head. It is now up to him to decide whether that is a risk worth taking.
Jordan Russell (@JordRuss96)