Argentina Is Just One Win Away From A New Era
11:52 AM EDT on July 13, 2023
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The 2023 World Cup is Argentina's fourth foray into the biggest tournament on the planet. In the side's three previous appearances—2003, 2007, and 2019—Argentina has taken home exactly two points, thanks to a 0-0 draw against Japan and a wild 3-3 draw against Scotland, both in 2019. In those three attempts, one thing has eluded the Albiceleste, though: A single World Cup win. Nine matches, two draws, and seven losses is not the record that this soccer-crazed nation wants on its resume, but things look like they could be changing this time around.
That's because Argentina has never been in better shape heading into a World Cup. Sure, the 2007 team had won the South American women's tournament (not quite yet named the Copa América Femenina at the time) the year before, but that was with the advantage of hosting the tournament on home turf. This time around, Argentina only finished third at the 2022 Copa América Femenina, thanks to a 3-1 third-place match victory over Paraguay, but that was enough to earn the continent's final automatic qualification spot for the World Cup.
Since that successful foray last summer, Argentina has not let off the throttle. After shaking off a 2-0 loss to Canada last October, and a brutal 7-0 defeat to the Spanish juggernaut in November, Argentina has reeled off four wins in five 2023 matches: Two wins over fellow World Cup side New Zealand, one over Chile, and one over Venezuela. (The other match was a 1-1 draw against Venezuela in a friendly that inexplicably went to penalties; Venezuela won those 7-6.) Though that's not the toughest pre-World Cup competition out there, Argentina is riding high entering the tournament, and that might be all the country needs to finally notch its first out-and-out victory in World Cup history.
Really, though, the victory would only be a symbol of the country's rapid resurgence after a down period following its 2006 Copa triumph. Having missed out on the World Cup in 2011 and 2015, the return to the biggest stage last time out was something of a rebirth for Argentina, and the very reasonable performance there, highlighted most by a narrow 1-0 loss to England, served as a building block for the 2023 campaign. The joy of simply making it back to the World Cup has surely dissipated by now, and in its place there is only a mission to make it further than ever before. That journey almost certainly starts with the pursuit of that all-elusive victory.
Who Is Their Star?
Argentina is in a weird spot as a team, in that it is remarkably solid at all three levels of play, but none of its most experienced players really stand out as pure stars. Goalkeeper and captain Vanina Correa was between the sticks back in 2007 at the World Cup, but she's 39 and reaching her end. Further up the field, Mariana Larroquette, Estefania Banini, and Florencia Bonsegundo are all nearing or past 30, and are probably not going to be different players than the rock-solid forces they've been. Argentina is mostly a known commodity, without many youngsters to inject some vitality into the side.
If there is someone who can be considered a real difference maker, it is probably Yamila Rodríguez. The former Boca Juniors forward, now playing for Palmeiras in Brazil, is the most dangerous goalscoring threat on the team, something she showcased last summer at the Copa América Femenina. In Argentina's charge to the third-place finish, Rodríguez scored a tournament-high six goals, including a hat trick against Uruguay in the group stage and, more importantly, two against Paraguay late in the third-place match.
Those two goals erased Paraguay's 1-0 lead and gave Argentina the automatic qualification for the World Cup, which is where Rodríguez will hope to break out onto the global stage. Whether she's playing on the wing or in a more advanced attacking position, the 25-year-old is Argentina's most dynamic shooter and creator. In the side's first three matches of 2023, Rodríguez created the joint-most chances for the Albiceleste with four, despite playing fewer minutes than all of her high-profile teammates.
The minutes drain contributed to a low tally of shots—only five across 167 minutes—in those games, but Argentina doesn't need Rodríguez to be barraging opposing goals in order to win. It simply needs her to be a whirlwind on the wing, disorienting defenses and making chances for Florencia Bonsegundo and Mariana Larroquette. And if she spends another tournament of bombing goals in, like she did in Colombia last summer, all the better. When Rodríguez is on fire, there's very little that anyone can do to stop her from creating the chaos Argentina needs to survive.
Tell Me About A Cool Youngster
Remember how I said Argentina doesn't have a lot of dynamic youngsters in the mix? That's only almost true. Daiana Falfán might be the most important player for the Albiceleste, at least when it comes to the midfield. While the defense is experienced, and the attack has a lot of potential to be efficient, the midfield needs bursts of progression and creativity, and that's where Falfán can come into play. The 22-year-old plies her club trade at UAI Urquiza in the Argentinian first division, and though she hasn't had a breakout moment yet, she's a vibrant part of Argentina's plans at this World Cup.
That's because she can play either a possession game to bring the ball between the lines, or get forward herself to pressure opposing backlines. In the aforementioned three-game period to start 2023, Falfán was Argentina's most consistent creator of build-up opportunities, notching seven while playing 90 minutes in all three games. She also created three chances to go with that, and notched an assist in Argentina's 1-0 victory over New Zealand on February 23, with a gorgeous chipped pass that completely took out the Football Ferns' defenders:
The fact that she can play backwards or forwards gives her teammates a good release valve for when they face pressure, while not losing much in terms of creativity going forward. If Argentina lines up in its 4-5-1 formation, with Falfán in the center of the five midfielders, then the side can be confident in knowing that they have someone who can send long balls to the wings, execute give-and-gos with whoever lines up at the striker position, or simply keep the ball away from the press. Falfán might not have the resume of some bigger-name midfielders in this tournament, or even on her own team, but her skillset allows her to orchestrate the offense in ways that don't often show up on the stat sheet.
Who Is Their Enemy?
It's Brazil, of course. Really, this could be true for any women's side in South America, even if they didn't have the intense rivalry that Argentina already does. That's because Brazil is the benchmark for the continent, and beating Brazil is as good a sign as any that a team is ready for the big time.
Argentina does not beat Brazil often. Since 2010, Brazil has won 10 of 12 matches against its rivals to the south, with one draw and a sole Argentina win against a Brazil side that had already qualified to the second round of the 2014 Copa América Femenina. (The Brazilians more than made up for that loss, beating Argentina 6-0 in the second group stage that tournament, en route to winning it for a then-sixth time.) The biggest win in Argentina's women's soccer program, meanwhile, was its 2-0 victory over Brazil in the final game of the 2006 Copa América Femenina, which gave the hosts their sole continental tournament trophy to date.
Unfortunately for Argentina, the last time these two teams played was in the 2022 edition of that tournament, and Brazil stomped their rivals 4-0. The benchmark for Argentina is still to get closer to Brazil's continental dominance, but right now, the Albiceleste is closer to Colombia, its main competitor for second place in South America. Given that, it's probably good for Argentina that there's an almost impossibly small chance of them facing Brazil this time around at the World Cup: For that to happen, both teams would have to make the final. Even with a loss to its most hated enemy in that late of a stage, I think everyone in Argentina's camp would be more than thrilled with going from no wins in World Cup history to a spot in the final.
National Folk Hero Who I Think Is Cool
The idea of a Robin Hood figure is one that spans across a lot of the world's cultures, and Argentina is no different. The legend of Gauchito Gil is appropriately tuned to the country's sensibilities: In the 19th century, in the northern parts of the country, near the border with Paraguay, Antonio Gil fell in love with a rich widow, against the wills of the wealthy and powerful of the Corrientes province. He was conscripted to fight in the army in a civil war, but instead deserted and became a cowboy outlaw, stealing from the rich to give to the poor. Sound familiar?
Thanks to his populist crimes, the people of the region were said to hide and protect Gil, and even described him as having superhuman abilities to cure the sick and to be invulnerable. In the years since, the legend of Gauchito Gil has grown to the point where he is considered a patron saint of the masses, and the people of Argentina often request favors from him. The day of his death, January 8, is celebrated in the north of the country every year, with a big party and festival in his honor.
Scran Or Not Scran: National Dish Edition
Though asado is less a dish and more a method of preparing a metric ton of beef and chorizo and other types of meat, I'm going to count it because, when I think about Argentinian food, asado is the only thing that comes to mind.
While the entire pageantry that comes with asado—there's cheese involved, and bread, and salads—is scran in spirit, there's nothing scran about slow-cooked, salted cuts of meat. My verdict is Not Scran.
What Would A Successful World Cup Look Like For This Team?
A win! That's really what it comes down to for Argentina. The draw did not particularly go the country's way, as Group G has two European stalwarts in Sweden and Italy. Both of those countries did well at the last World Cup, and they both have more talent than Argentina on paper. However, South Africa is the fourth team in the group, and the July 28 showdown between those two sides could be Argentina's best shot at a victory.
Thanks to how the schedule bore out, a win against South Africa could also put Argentina in a decent position to go even further than just collecting three points. Though the side's toughest game in the group comes last, against Sweden, it's not out of the realm of possibility that a draw there, or against Italy in the opening match, is enough to push the Albiceleste through to the knockouts. For a country that has never won a match, but which was one goal against Scotland away last time out from advancing to the knockouts, this isn't quite an impossible dream. It's perhaps an optimistic one, but this Argentina side will take it one step at a time. A victory leading into a knockout round appearance would make this far and away the most successful tournament in Argentina's World Cup history.