There is no question that Tuesday’s clash with Brazil is what will pique the interest of most observers during this international break but before that Lionel Scaloni must first oversee his third match as Argentina’s interim coach.
Following last month’s double header with Guatemala and Colombia in the United States, La Albiceleste are in Saudi Arabia and before facing their formidable old foe on Tuesday must take on Iraq.
Ahead of Wednesday’s friendly Scaloni has already named his starting eleven and once more in the absence of Lionel Messi and many of the familiar faces from the past few years, it has an experimental look to it.
Sergio Romero returns in goal, Ramiro Funes Mori continues his comeback partnering Germán Pezzella in central defence, Leandro Paredes anchors the midfield, Rodrigo de Paul makes his debut and in attack Paulo Dybala starts with Lautaro Martínez.
Argentina XI: Sergio Romero; Fabricio Bustos, Germán Pezzella, Ramiro Funes Mori, Marcos Acuña; Leandro Paredes, Maximiliano Meza, Rodrigo De Paul; Franco Vázquez; Paulo Dybala, Lautaro Martínez
“Nothing in football is simple and Iraq will be a complicated opponent but we have to play our game. Win and make a good impression,” Scaloni told reporters.
“I don’t know if the same eleven will play in the next match [vs Brazil] but for tomorrow they are the best. That doesn’t mean they can’t play again. If they impress they will get another chance. The important thing is that they feel supported.”
Even from this new-look squad there are notable absentees from this starting eleven but it is understood that Nicolás Otamendi, Nicolás Tagliafico, Giovani Lo Celso and Mauro Icardi have already been informed that they form the core of Scaloni’s side for the greater test on Tuesday.
Sergio Romero and Paulo Dybala could well start again in the second friendly and Rodrigo Battaglia will likely bolster the midfield rather than the clearly more offensive eleven selected for Iraq.
Argentina will be expected to defeat Iraq but it is the friendly against Brazil that could have far greater significance given the Argentine Football Association (AFA) are no closer to naming a permanent manager.
“We came in a difficult moment on a temporary basis and we are here to give it our all,” Scaloni explained.
“The future will be decided by the AFA and I hope it is the best for Argentine football. I am a resultist, but at this moment nothing changes.”
Nothing has changed yet but a result for better or worse could have a significant role in Scaloni’s future. Even if only a friendly in name, a heavy defeat would likely end the 40-year-old’s hopes but victory would only strengthen his claim.
With Lionel Messi taking time out and confidence low after a dreadful World Cup campaign, it has been a difficult time for Scaloni and injuries to five players this time have added to that but the interim coach was resolute.
“We don’t want players who are not 100%,” Scaloni said referencing the late injuries to Franco Armani and Cristian Pavón.
The atmosphere appears greatly improved and Scaloni looks at ease with what he has available but Tuesday’s clash with Brazil will be of great interest.