Argentina's Lionel Scaloni on cusp of joining World Cup coaching greats

Lionel Scaloni is just one win away from joining the pantheon of all-time Argentina coaching greats alongside former World Cup winner Cesar Luis Menotti and Carlos Bilardo.

Thrust into the hot seat on an interim basis in 2018 after Jorge Sampaoli's tempestuous reign ended, Scaloni, 44, has made the job his own -- leading the Albiceleste to the brink of a third World Cup crown.

The contrast between the fiery Sampaoli and understated Scaloni, Argentina's assistant at the last World Cup, could not be more pronounced.

His appointment following a tumultuous last-16 exit in Russia was met with widespread criticism and disapproval from those who felt he lacked the necessary qualifications.

The late Diego Maradona, himself a former Argentina head coach, offered a particularly withering assessment at the time, praising Scaloni's character but telling newspaper Clarin: "He's not even capable of directing traffic."

Scaloni had no previous experience as a head coach, but he was only supposed to be in charge for two months while the federation searched for Sampaoli's successor.

He inherited a squad scarred by a series of near-misses -- the 2014 World Cup final defeat was followed by back-to-back Copa America final losses to Chile on penalties in 2015 and 2016.

Scaloni's most immediate concern was the future of Lionel Messi, who briefly retired from international duty in 2016 and was disillusioned by Argentina's 2018 World Cup flop.

But the superstar forward was impressed by Scaloni's vision for the team -- as well as the presence of his idol Pablo Aimar on the coaching staff, along with former international teammates Roberto Ayala and Walter Samuel.

The Argentine coach is shaping a side in his own image, with 19 of the 26 players in his squad in Qatar playing at their first World Cup.

"He helped discover players like (Nahuel) Molina, Cristian Romero, Lisandro Martinez and (Alexis) Mac Allister, who have given the team an identity and, above all, given Leo (Messi) playing options he didn't have at the last World Cup," Jorge Burruchaga, scorer of the winning goal in the 1986 final, told AFP.

Argentina will be appearing in their sixth World Cup final against France, but Scaloni is quick to downplay comparisons with the country's finest coaches of the past, including Menotti, Bilardo and Alejandro Sabella, who led them to the 2014 final.

"I can't compare myself with other coaches," he said. "It fills me with pride to get to the final and represent the national team. But I can't put myself on the same level as them. I just feel privileged to be in the final."

For many, Scaloni combines characteristics of Menotti's tactical acumen and Bilardo's pragmatism.

"The coaching staff are not full of hot air, they're involved every day in learning more and more and they commit themselves to the players in a loyal way," Menotti, now 84, told Radio Mitre after Argentina's semifinal win over Croatia on Tuesday.

Scaloni led Argentina on a 36-match unbeaten run heading into the World Cup, the highlight of which was the 2021 Copa America triumph in Brazil, which ended a 28-year trophy drought.

A shock loss to Saudi Arabia in their tournament opener in Qatar prevented Argentina from equaling the world record of 37 games without defeat held by Italy.

Messi described that setback as a "heavy blow," but Scaloni stuck to his guns while also making the necessary adjustments -- bringing the energetic Julian Alvarez in to liven up the attack.

Scaloni called for calm and dispelled any worries, urging a sense of perspective.

"You have to have some common sense, it's just a soccer match," he said after the 2-1 loss. "It's hard to make people understand that the sun will rise tomorrow, win or lose."

Five straight wins have followed -- and one more at Lusail Stadium would see Scaloni accomplish a feat neither Menotti or Bilardo could, by completing a Copa America and World Cup double.


© Agence France-Presse

Three key France players ill two days before World Cup final
Raphael Varane and Ibrahima Konate, who started in France's 2-0 win over Morocco, and Kingsley Coman, a key reserve, sat out training on Friday with cold-like symptoms two days before the World Cup final against Argentina, a source close to the team said.

Coman, the Bayern Munich winger, had already been forced to miss a training session on Thursday because of a "light viral syndrome," the French Football Federation (FFF) said.

Coman was an unused substitute in the 2-0 win against Morocco in Wednesday's semifinal.

The condition of Varane and Konate will cause France coach Didier Deschamps more concern as they formed the central defensive partnership against Morocco.

Konate had replaced Dayot Upamecano in defense for the semifinal after he was ruled out by illness. Adrien Rabiot, who has played a key role in France's midfield in Qatar, was also sidelined with illness for the semifinal.

France forward Randal Kolo Muani said in a press conference on Friday: "There is little bit of flu going around but nothing serious."


© Agence France-Presse
1 comment about "Argentina's Lionel Scaloni on cusp of joining World Cup coaching greats".
  1. humble 1, December 16, 2022 at 12:35 p.m.

    I doubted Scaloni because he was the youngest coach in this WC, but had not seen his work.  No more doubting.  The Copa America Triumph in Brazil in 2021, which I only watched Uruguay and they did play Argentina, but did not pay attention to Scaloni as he was the 'temporary coach'. This was Messi's first ever trophy for Argentina.  He was in 3 Copa America finals before that victory, losing to Brazil 3-0 in 2007, then lossing to the Chileans in on pens in 2015, making his, having Higuain and Banega misses, and US in 2016 where he missed his pen and after the game retired breifly from international play.  We all know what happend in the WC final of 2014 against Germany.  The Scaloni - Messi partnership is a good one - focused gutsy play - by Messi and the entire team - the emergence of some protection for Messi - Rodrigo De Paul - this was maybe more important in S. American where they double teamed and rotated players fouling Messi, making treatment of Grealish and Hazard in Prem seem light, kind of like taking the shackles off.  It was all Scaloni.  Well done for him, not easy working with la pulga.  Let's see Sunday. 

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