Victory over Mexico four days ago in Córdoba once more signalled Argentina were moving on from their disastrous summer under Jorge Sampaoli and while there is still much to do ahead of next year’s Copa América and what will be a testing World Cup qualification process, La Albiceleste enter another critical moment along that path.
Interim coach Lionel Scaloni, who should be credited with steering the ship through troubled waters, takes charge of what the AFA suggested would be his final game in charge before a permanent appointment is made and so Tuesday’s second friendly meeting against Mexico provides one final opportunity to impress.
“Tomorrow is our last game, then we will see, we have no knowledge,” Scaloni told the press on Monday after arriving in Mendoza.
With few realistic options available to the AFA and Scaloni having made an impression with his rejuvenation of the squad, president Claudio Tapia has not only spoken positively about the 40-year-old but not exactly closed the door on Scaloni’s future with the national team.
“We are grateful for the words of [Claudio] Tapia because it means that we have done a good job. He [Tapia] told me that he is happy with what we are doing, but we do not talk about the future.
“I wouldn’t like to answer about something that I they haven’t offered. I don’t want to talk about a supposition. Things are as they are, or not. It could happen, or not and for the time being we are here until tomorrow.”
If it is indeed Scaloni’s last match in charge before he resumes control of the under-20s ahead of January’s South American Championships few could criticise the caretaker coach. Argentina have lost only once – that coming in the last minute against Brazil last month – and have won three of the five games during that time.
That late goal against Brazil being the only goal conceded and while at times the attack hasn’t quite clicked and as yet Scaloni has not managed to solve the puzzle of Paulo Dybala and Mauro Icardi in an Argentina shirt, La Albiceleste have been well organised, demonstrated some form of strategy and welcomed a host of youthful, new faces.
So has there been anything else that Scaloni would have changed? “Maybe not coaching Messi [has been] the only regret. I’m convinced that we did everything else that we had to do.”
That desire may still come to fruition if Scaloni goes from stop-gap to long-term appointment and Messi can be convinced to have another crack at the Copa América.
And there is an argument that the AFA should consider this. The atmosphere in the squad has been transformed and while a huge number of players have been used, the exciting midfield of Leandro Paredes and Giovani Lo Celso looks set to be central to any further plans.