Argentina travel to the home of fierce rivals Brazil on Wednesday wounded by the nation’s first defeat as world champions.
In the wake of a deserved 2-0 defeat at home to Uruguay – under the stewardship of former Argentina manager Marcelo Bielsa – Lionel Messi admitted: “We never felt comfortable.” The World Cup-winning captain added: “We struggled to find ourselves and our game.”
Since Brazil knocked Argentina out of the 2019 Copa America semi-finals, Saudi Arabia are the only other nation to defeat Lionel Scaloni’s side. “None of us likes to lose,” the Argentina boss calmly reflected post-game, “but we have to turn the page, think about what’s coming and correct it.”
Here’s the lineup Scaloni may deploy to put things right.
GK: Emiliano Martinez – Uruguay’s Ronald Araujo was the first player to score against Martinez in an international match since Kylian Mbappe‘s hat-trick in the World Cup final.
RB: Nahuel Molina – The lucky soul on the end of Messi’s mesmeric through ball against the Netherlands in the World Cup quarter-final has not scored another goal for his country.
CB: Cristian Romero – Hailed by Messi as “the best defender in the world right now” earlier this year.
CB: Nicolas Otamendi – One of just eight male players to amass a century of caps for Argentina, only Messi and Angel Di Maria boast more than Otamendi in the current squad.
LB: Marcos Acuna – “It’s hard to get the words out of him,” Scaloni once said of the left-back, “but when he does [talk], it’s because he says the right thing.”
CM: Rodrigo De Paul – The heavily inked midfielder wanted to bring an end to his body art. “I think I’m going to stop,” he said last year. “Unless I become world champion.” De Paul now has a tattoo of the World Cup final date etched onto his neck.
CM: Alexis Mac Allister – One of Argentina’s poorer performers against Uruguay, swallowed up by the press. If the Liverpool midfielder is dropped, Guido Rodriguez or Leandro Paredes offer more pedestrian alternatives.
CM: Enzo Fernandez – No player boasted more touches, passes or tackles than Fernandez in the World Cup final.
RW: Lionel Messi – The first time Messi ever came up against Brazil, former Manchester City forward Elano scored a brace in a 3-0 win. Plenty has changed over the subsequent decades.
ST: Lautaro Martinez – If Julian Alvarez is overlooked, Scaloni can turn to Inter‘s royally in-form Martinez, who already boasts 14 goals in 16 club games this season.
LW: Nicolas Gonzalez – The Fiorentina wideman lost the first game of his international career against Uruguay.