Copa America preview: Underwhelming Argentina aiming for first title in 26 years

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Copa America preview: Underwhelming Argentina aiming for first title in 26 years

Rookie coach Lionel Scaloni only ended his playing career four years ago and his first competitive matches in management will come at this year’s Copa America in Brazil. The former international wing-back has overseen three friendlies to date since taking the position on a solo basis, making a nightmare start with a 3-1 defeat to Venezuela before narrowly beating Morocco back in March and Nicaragua in the build-up to the tournament.

He’s switched from a back three to a four already and is likely to opt for a similarly solid foundation this summer. The 41-year-old has made some surprising omissions from his 23-man squad, with Gabriel Mercado, Angel Correa and Mauro Icardi failing to make the cut, with 31-year-old Matias Suarez getting the call over the latter pairing.
The big news is that Lionel Messi has returned to the international fold under the new manager, while Angel Di Maria and Sergio Aguero have been named in the squad for the first time since the World Cup last summer.
Having started with a different goalkeeper in each of their last five matches, the spot in goal is very much up for grab, with former mainstay Sergio Romero left out of the squad. Elsewhere Renzo Saravia, who has just three international caps, is the only natural right-back in the squad, while Juan Foyth for the nod over the aforementioned Mercado and may offer competition on that side of the defence.
Having been somewhat surprisingly left out of the World Cup squad last summer, Giovani Lo Celso may play a prominent role in midfield after an impressive season at Betis, scoring 16 goals in all competitions. Meanwhile Rodrigo de Paul is one to watch too having shone for Udinese, registering nine goals and eight assists along with impressive stats per 90 minutes for shots (2.5), key passes (2.8) and dribbles (2.3).

Copa America preview: Underwhelming Argentina aiming for first title in 26 years

Possible XI (4-2-3-1): Armani; Saravia, Otamendi, Pezzella, Tagliafico; Paredes, Lo Celso; Pereyra, Messi, De Paul; Agüero.

Getting the best out of Messi is, as ever, the key to Argentina’s hopes, with the Barcelona star having failed to score in nine of his last 12 international appearances over the past two years. Group B isn’t an easy one after all, with Colombia up first to kick-off their tournament followed by Paraguay and Qatar – invited to take part for the first time. The latter represent something of an unknown entity to the South Americans, albeit having won all seven of their matches and conceded just once en route to the Asian Cup at the start of this year.

All in all it’s difficult to know what to expect from this Argentina, who have blown cold more than hot in recent years and may well struggle to match their silver medal from the Centenario tournament in the US three years ago.

Martin laurence