The 2014 World Cup in Brazil was a heartbreak for Lionel Messi and Argentina as they fell short against Germany in the final.
Alejandro Sabella was the manager at the time, but he quit after the failure.
Elsewhere in Italy, there was an Argentine called Lionel Scaloni, plying his trade in Serie A with Atalanta.
He was in the twilight of his playing career and would call time the following year.
Few people would have expected that a lesser-known figure like Scaloni would redefine La Albiceleste’s history as a coach and lift the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
A struggling start to his coaching career
Upon retiring from football, Scaloni wasted no time setting out his coaching career as he became Jorge Sampaoli’s assistant at Sevilla in 2016.
Sampaoli also took the former West Ham United man with him when he was appointed as the manager of Argentina’s senior team in 2017.
Scaloni saw La Albiceleste crashing out of the 2018 World Cup in Russia in the round of 16 against France – the team they beat last night in Lusail Stadium to end their 36-year wait for the World Cup.
Another disappointing campaign in Russia prompted changes at the management level, with Sampaoli also given marching orders.
Instead of finding a new manager, La Albiceleste went with Scaloni as the caretaker boss, much to the surprise of many people.
And amid much criticism, Scaloni led Argentina to a third-place finish in the 2019 Copa America, which was eventually won by Brazil.
It was an encouraging effort from Scaloni in his first major tournament, but he still found himself on the receiving end of criticism.
La Albiceleste had lost the finals of two previous editions of Copa America and the latest defeat – which followed the previous year’s World Cup debacle – left the fans disappointed.
They continued questioning Scaloni was the right man to lead the team. Regardless, Argentina went with Scaloni as the full-time manager.
Proving the detractors wrong and gaining the spotlight
Be it an intentional one or a pure chance – as they couldn’t figure out any big names for the role – the decision to stick with Scaloni as the head coach would prove to be a masterstroke.
In the 2021 edition of Copa America, La Albiceleste enjoyed a sensational run before beating Brazil in the finals at the Maracana – the same venue they lost to Germans in the 2014 World Cup final – to lift the trophy – which would later hand Messi his seventh Ballon d’Or.
Finally, Scaloni was handed recognition for his impressive work behind the scenes, and he also had a chance to prove his naysayers wrong.
It didn’t stop him there. Scaloni continued his upward career trajectory as he was on a mission to prove he was not a one-hit-wonder.
The Finalissima against European champions Italy earlier this year – played in memory of Diego Maradona – put Scaloni on a pedestal.
Argentina hammered Roberto Mancini’s side 3-0 to record a comprehensive victory, which stretched their winning streak to 32 games.
Above all, Scaloni’s tactical work received plenty of plaudits.
Reaching the pinnacle of his career
Before the start of the 2022 World Cup, Argentina were touted as the outright favourites as everyone believed Lionel Messi would get his hands at the holy grail after a prolonged wait.
But those massive expectations took an early hit when the South American champions suffered a shock defeat against Saudi Arabia in the group opener – which ended their 36-match unbeaten run.
Argentina came under scrutiny, and questions were raised over their chances of reaching the knockout stage.
However, La Albiceleste alleviated the pressure by producing a stunning 2-0 win over Mexico, thanks to extraordinary goals from Messi and Enzo Fernandez.
And Argentina didn’t look back from that as they made their way to the final, beating Poland, Australia, Netherlands and Croatia in the process.
Scaloni played a key role behind all the victories as his tactical acumen proved as important as the efforts of players.
In a high-stakes game against France in the final – Argentina’s most difficult opponent of the tournament yet – Scaloni’s men dominated for large spells.
They quickly went 2-0 up and didn’t allow Didier Deschamps’ men to stamp their authority, except for the final spell.
Were it not for their sloppiness in the final quarter, Argentina would have comprehensively defeated the 2018 champions – there should have been no need for the extra time and penalty drama.
Eventually, Argentina won the hard way, and Messi finally added the World Cup to his trophy cabinet.
It was also a deserved one for this exciting team moulded by a genius in Lionel Scaloni.
Aged 44, Scaloni also became the youngest coach to lift the World Cup since Cesar Luis Menotti in 1978.
Scaloni’s rise to ascendancy in a quick time is an inspiration to all, and it is high time he is included in the same bracket as the modern-day greats.
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