The year 2019 is almost over – but when it comes to the Argentina national team the year is complete. The Albiceleste’s 2-2 draw against Uruguay was the final time Messi, Aguero, Martínez, and friends will take the pitch for their country this calendar year. 2019 was… interesting.
It was a year with a major tournament, the Copa America, that ended once again in Argentina not winning any hardware. It was a year that saw Messi return from his hiatus only to get suspended and then return again. A year in which a manger finally learned how to manage. A year that had several exciting matches including three that Argentina won by four goals or more. And a year that finished with the Albiceleste on a streak of seven matches without a loss.
As the year comes to a close, let’s look back at the results this year and give out some awards. First, here were all the matches Argentina played in 2019:
Now that you’ve caught up on everything that happened this year, time for the awards.
Best player: Lautaro Martínez
There has never been a dearth of goal scorers for Argentina. Over the past few years that spot up front has been occupied by some of the best in the world: Agüero, Higuain, Icardi, Benedetto, Alario, etc. But over the past year Lautaro Martínez has gone from being the striker of the future to becoming the striker of today.
After making his debut in March 2018, Martínez was passed over for a spot in the 2018 World Cup but has been an essential piece of Scaloni’s youth movement. In 2019 Lautaro played in 13 matches and scored 8 goals. When Argentina played Brazil last week, it was Martínez that got the starting spot and played all 90 minutes. He has been given an opportunity to lead the front line and has taken full advantage of it.
Biggest Surprise Player: Rodrigo de Paul
Similar to Lautaro Martínez, Rodrigo de Paul came out of Racing Club in Argentina before moving to Europe. And also similar to Martínez, he was one of those players that Lionel Scaloni identified as a future talent and has made him a regular starter since taking over the squad. But unlike Martínez, de Paul was never considered to be a sure thing.
After leaving Racing he joined Valencia for a fee around $5 million. He never found his place on the team and was loaned back to Racing before being sold for a loss to Udinese, a fee of less than $3.5 million. He was about to be one of the many who left Argentina for Europe earlier than he probably should have and never developed to his full potential. Over the year, de Paul has not only thrived under Scaloni, but for his club as well. He has become a regular starter for Argentina and their budding midfield.
Most disappointing: Paulo Dybala
The next Messi. While he carried that headline for years, most have come to the conclusion that he it is a title he will never fully live up to. First there was the hope that the two could play together – they never could. Then when Messi first retired and then was suspended this year the hope was that Dybala could slot into Messi’s playmaker role and take over the proverbial mantel – that too never happened.
While he is still only 26 years old and could be entering his prime during the next World Cup cycle, he has now amassed 29 caps for his country with only two goals to his name. When wearing the Albiceleste shirt, you can watch an entire 90 minutes and never hear his name mentioned. He looks completely lost and has never been able to replicate his club form with the national team. 2019 has come and gone and none of the questions we had about Dybala have been answered.
Best match: vs Germany
First things first, yes, this match ended in a draw and yes, Argentina was playing against many of Germany’s second choice players. Argentina fell behind 2-0 just 22 minutes into the first half and their defense looked beyond dreadful. The Albiceleste easily could have gone into the half with a four or five goal deficit.
But instead of rolling over and dying, Argentina put up a fight and didn’t quit on the match. They got one goal back in the 66th minute thanks to an Alario header and brought the match level in the 85th minute on a gorgeous play that was finished by Ocampos. Argentina came much closer to finding the winning goal than Germany ever got in the second half and could have stolen the match.
Argentina showed personality, fight, and an ability to overcome adversity, all with a young squad and no Messi. Even though it was only a friendly, it was a match that showed signs of a team that was finally starting to figure out their identity. Four days later they beat Ecuador 6-1.
Worst match: vs Morocco
Quite possibly the most painful 90 minutes of football I’ve seen in my life. The match was played back in March when most of the squad had little to no experience with one another, but the lack of partnerships on the pitch was only half the problem. The wind in the stadium that day made it impossible to kick the ball five feet. It was sloppy and ugly and that’s all I have to say about it.
Performance of the year: Lautaro Martínez hattrick vs Mexico
El Tri came into the match having won 11 straight matches after former Argentina Manager Tata Martino took over the job. Mexico had also just won the Gold Cup two months prior. And then, Lautaro happened. Martínez scored a hattrick in the first half and well, let’s just let his goals and performance speak for themselves.
Best story line: Scaloni learning how to manage
Quick summary of Scaloni’s timeline as the Argentina boss. He took over after the 2018 World Cup on an interim basis. After six matches (four wins, one draw, and one loss to Brazil) Scaloni was given the full-time job through the 2019 Copa America. After a loss and a draw in the Copa’s first two matches, Scaloni all but looked to be gone – some wanted him fired mid-tournament. Argentina turned it around, made the semi-final, lost to Brazil under controversial circumstances and suddenly Scaloni’s contract was extended. All the while the narrative was “He is only the Manager because there are no other options” and “He really has no right to be the Manager of Argentina, he has never managed anywhere else before.”
While both true statements, Scaloni has closed out the 2019 year on an undefeated streak of seven matches and his plan is starting to take shape. Scaloni has empowered many of the players that will make up Argentina’s next generation including the aforementioned Lautaro Martínez and Rodrigo de Paul as well as Leandro Paredes and Giovani Lo Celso. He has also started to identify future prospects including Exequiel Palacios, Nico Dominguez and Alexis Mac Allister.
Scaloni has pivoted from being a placeholder manager into someone who truly looks like the right man for the job heading into World Cup qualifications and the 2020 Copa America.
Biggest question moving into 2020: Central defense and right back
While most of Scaloni’s team is taking shape, the biggest question since even before the 2018 World Cup is Argentina’s back line. Two of the four spots seem to have been secured with Nico Tagliafico at left back and German Pezzella as one of the two center backs. But the second central defense and the right back spots are still not set.
At right back Scaloni has tried Renzo Saravia, Juan Foyth and Gonzalo Montiel. At center back, Otamendi continues to get the majority of the playing time but Lucas Martínez Quarta, Walter Kannemann, even Marcos Rojo have also played. While Martínez Quarta looks like the best option to be Pezzella’s partner, no one has stepped up to claim the right back spot and it remains open for the taking. I personally think Tomás Guidara from Velez is the best right back currently playing in Argentina and deserves a shot with the national team.
Scaloni’s ability to find the right men to fill those two spots will play a significant role in whether or not Argentina can end it’s nearly 30 year trophyless drought at the 2020 Copa America.
Biggest sign of hope moving into 2020: A solid midfield
One of Argentina’s many issues at the 2018 World Cup was the midfield. To sum up just how bad it was, Javier Mascherano was still a starting. Now just 18 months later, the middle of the pitch looks as solid as it has in years. The star of the group is without question Leandro Paredes who has an uncanny ability to pick out the perfect pass and connect the entire team together.
Along with Paredes, Lo Celso, de Paul, Acuna, Ocampos, Mac Allister, Palacios, and Dominguez have been able to work together to make Argentina’s midfield the most stable part of the squad.
Players to watch in 2020: Exequiel Palacios / Nico Dominguez / Alexis Mac Allister
One of the reason’s Argentina’s midfield has been so superb is the emergence of these three future stars. Mac Allister has already been sold to Brighton in England, Dominguez has been sold to Bologna in Italy and Palacios has been linked to many clubs including Real Madrid.
All three are 21 or younger and have not only been standouts for their clubs, they have become reliable options for Scaloni and the national team. And while all have been sold or linked to teams in Europe, they have remained in Argentina to continue their development and maturation at home instead of being prematurely shipped overseas.
Goal of the year:
I couldn’t pick just one, so I give you three. Let us know which you prefer.
Messi vs Nicaragua
Agüero vs Qatar
Dybala vs Chile
One other awesome thing not yet covered: The new Argentina alternate shirt
This is a gorgeous football shirt and a huge improvement over the previous alternate. Adidas, take my money.
Jimmy lived in Córdoba, Argentina as a teenager and is still an active Socio for his beloved club, Belgrano. He currently lives in Seattle, WA and runs the Belgrano – English twitter account.