The 2022 World Cup begins on Nov. 20, and one of the favorites to win it all is Argentina. In Lionel Messi’s last World Cup, the South Americans enter with positive vibes. Not only did they win the 2020 Copa America (in 2021, actually), they haven’t lost since 2019 and won La Finalissima against Euro champs Italy.
Lionel Scaloni has done an incredible job from serving as caretaker manager to being the man to end the team’s title drought with the epic 1-0 win in Brazil in that Copa America final. But while Argentina has seen many of the older names depart the team that formed its core during the 2010s, a youth movement continues with one of the most talented-rich countries in the sport.
So how will Argentina field their team at the World Cup barring injuries?
Here’s the projected XI for La Albiceleste.
Emiliano Martinez (Aston Villa): The no-doubt, sure-fire No. 1 in goal. The Aston Villa man has already entered legendary status for the national team thanks to his heroics at the Copa America. From the stunning performance in the penalty shootout semifinal against Colombia to his composure in the final, not only is he highly regarded by Messi, he’s won over every single Argentina fan due to his confidence and aggression.
Left-Back — Nicolas Tagliafico (Lyon): Far from a locked spot, Tagliafico moved from Ajax to Lyon and has played himself back into the picture. Marcos Acuna is another option and started that Copa final, but Tagliafico is a more natural defender and brings a calming presence to the team.
Center back — Nicolas Otamendi (Benfica): He may be 34 years of age, but the veteran has been a staple with the team for a while and continues to excel in Portugal. Strong in the air and a warrior who goes after any ball with extreme vigor, he is the heart and soul of the backline. Now, Lisandro Martinez is waiting in the wings, but Otamendi is still in line to lead this backline.
Center back — Cristian Romero (Tottenham): Regarded as the most talented of the bunch, Romero has superstar potential. Sure, sometimes he loses his cool and can be a liability, but he’s just so strong in so many phases, offering a partnership with Otamendi that strikers now will result in a sore day after. His lack of club minutes is no longer a concern as he leads Tottenham in their Champions League campaign.
Right-back — Gonzazlo Montiel (Sevilla): This feels like one of the most unsure positions along with left-back with Montiel battling Atletico Madrid’s Nahuel Molina. Both are nearing 20 caps with the national team, but the edge here goes to the more experienced player. Montiel has plenty of experience and started the Copa America final.
Defensive midfielder — Leandro Paredes (Juventus): His move to Juventus has been beneficial for a lot of reasons, but one, in particular, has been the continued bond with Angel Di Maria. They have a strong understanding and connection that is only fostered by more and more minutes together. His passing is superb, and his technical ability to get the ball laterally is key to this team opening up other teams in space.
Center midfield — Giovani Lo Celso (Villarreal): Lo Celso is back at Villarreal and getting more minutes than he would have at Tottenham. He’s not a lock by any means but there aren’t a lot of options behind him. Scaloni has tinkered with the formation a bit, and we saw a double defensive midfielder against Italy. That still saw Lo Celso get the start though. so his chances are promising.
Center midfield — Rodrigo de Paul (Atletico Madrid): De Paul’s emergence in Europe has come as quite a surprise. He showed flashes at Valencia before a surprising loan back to Racing Club, only to then explode at Udinese. Now at Atletico, he is a staple in this team, his tenure marked by that assist to Di Maria to beat Brazil at the Maracana. There is no replacing him in this team.
Winger — Angel Di Maria (Juventus): Always an injury concern, Di Maria, like De Paul, is a sure starter on this team because he’s earned it. Not just for his heroics en route to South American supremacy, but also because he’s looked so sharp at Juventus since moving from PSG. His ability to create, take on defenders and deliver incredible golazos is a must in this team.
Striker — Lautaro Martinez (Inter): The striker has 21 goals in 40 games for his national team, and he’s gotten some big ones. He scored five in qualifying, one in La Finalissima, and he also scored three in the Copa America, including in the semifinal against Colombia. He is the clear starter at striker with not a whole lot behind him other than Julian Alvarez. Nicolas Gonzalez provides depth but isn’t a pure striker, though you must keep an eye on Gio Simeone moving forward with the Napoli man making noise in Serie A.
Winger — Lionel Messi (PSG): You already know. He’s been the heart and soul of this national team for over a decade. He led them to recent glory and gets his final shot to conquer the world. While pressure will be on him, it feels like less than usual. He’s having more fun now than ever with this team, and a relaxed Messi is a scary one.