Football Features

“Are they World Cup favourites?” – Messi leads awesome Argentina to thrash Italy in the Finalissima

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 23:20, 1 June 2022

Argentina have won another trophy as they beat Italy to claim the Finalissima trophy at Wembley.

This is the third Finalissima (the first was won by France in 1985 and the second by Argentina themselves back in 1993, back when it was known as the Artemio Franchi trophy) and it was a star-studded occasion as Euro 2021 winners Italy faced Copa America 2021 victors Argentina at Wembley Stadium in London.


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We had the legendary Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci, who together have amassed over 230 caps for Italy, playing their last game together as Chiellini announced his departure from Juventus and international retirement a few weeks ago.

We had Lautaro Martinez out to firmly establish himself as his country’s star forward after his best-ever season. He had 30 goals for club and country coming into this game, a career-high for the 24-year-old, and wanted more.

And finally we had Leo Messi and Angel Di Maria, the only survivors from Argentina’s 2014 World Cup squad where they finished as runners-up to Germany in a devastatingly close 1-0 defeat after extra-time, determined to head into their last World Cup with serious, trophy-winning momentum.



The result went for Argentina and should serve as a warning shot for the rest of the nations heading to Qatar 2022 with designs on winning it, because this is an Argentina side that is capable of playing its best football in finals.

From 2014 to 2016, Argentina made three major finals in a row as they were in the 2014 World Cup final and then the 2015 and 2016 Copa America finals. In all three tournaments they were either the best or second-best team, yet they reserved their worst displays for the final.

Call it bottling if you want, the pressure definitely got to them. In 2014 it was everyone but Messi, in 2015 Tata Martino used Messi as a decoy (no, seriously) and by 2016 even Messi was in the mud with his compatriots, missing a penalty in the shoot-out.

At the 2021 Copa America it felt similar, where Argentina’s worst performance of the tournament was in the showpiece. Except this time they held out and picked up the win, their first trophy since claiming the Finalissima in 1993.

Now in 2022, playing their second-straight final, Argentina not only picked up the win but played superbly. Against an epic opponent they absolutely strutted their stuff across the Wembley pitch, winning 0-3 and that score could have been doubled were it not for an incredible performance from Gianluigi Donnarumma in the Italian goal.

Donnarumma was outdone, of course, by Emi Martinez in the Argentina goal who made a couple of big saves at 0-0 and kept his third-straight clean sheet in finals, won his third-straight final at Wembley and picked up his fourth-straight final victory, two with Arsenal and now two with Argentina.

Ahead of him Argentina’s defence had a few ropey moments but mostly stood tall with Spurs’ Cristian Romero doing particularly well. The Spurs connection continued further up the field with Giovani Lo Celso playing excellently in midfield, helping to set-up the first goal of the game with a brilliant bit of pressing and run the show alongside Rodrigo De Paul. Argentina having a functioning midfield has been a game-changer for them and keeping these two fit will be essential to their hopes in Qatar.

 

But it was the front three that stole the show and did the damage. Lautaro Martinez opened the scoring, his 31st goal of the season for club and country. A smart tap-in as he drifted into space between Bonucci and Chiellini.

Lautaro then showed his creative side, collecting a massive long ball from Emi Martinez in stoppage time of the first-half, turning away from Bonucci and drove at the heart of the Italian defence, slipping a little ball in behind Chiellini, allowing Angel Di Maria to race onto it and do what he always seems to do in finals. Chip the goalie.

In the 2008 Olympic gold medal game against Nigeria, in the 2021 Copa America final against Brazil, and now in the Finalissima against Italy, Di Maria raced through 1-v-1 from a through-pass (from Messi, De Paul and Lautaro respectively) and lofted a delicate and delightful scoop of joy over the goalkeeper. And each time he did so, Argentina won the trophy. Had Real Madrid allowed him to play with a painkilling injection in 2014, who knows if Argentina wouldn’t already have a World Cup?

But they didn’t, and so Argentina lost, which means that Leo Messi is still chasing that elusive dream. But it’s a dream that, now he’s in the twilight of his career, bizarrely seems closer than ever.


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2022 will be Messi’s last World Cup, and he’s preparing for it in style. A move away from Barcelona and to PSG seemed a risk at first, but in truth it’s allowed him to coast through most Ligue 1 games with Kylian Mbappé doing all the hard-running behind defences and allowing Messi to be the playmaker he was always going to evolve in.

Moreover Messi can focus more on international football, skipping out on PSG games to better prepare for Argentina’s. Where for years we saw the best of Messi in Blaugrana to the extent that he seemed to physically have little left for Argentina in the summer, now he can save his strength for his nation, as we saw in tonight’s Finalissima.

Messi was voted man of the match for his display, which consisted of two assists (the first for Lautaro showed his physical power is not entirely diminished) and the second a bit more accidental as his tackle touched the ball to Paulo Dybala who slotted home.

But the overall display from Messi was magical; everywhere and anywhere on the field. Constantly involved in Argentina’s play, directing traffic and acting as a reference in the final third. He didn’t have to play the final pass or take the final shot, but he was the architect.

And in the end, he lifted his second internatinal trophy in as many years. The Argentina captain now leads his nation into the World Cup with genuine title-winning momentum. They are not scrappy underdogs, nor are they a shambling favourite rated on talent alone. They are a genuinely fearsome side; one of the very best in the world. Are they World Cup favourites? Well…

Argentina have not lost for 32 games under Leonel Scaloni. They are ferociously solid at the back and with Lautaro emerging and Messi and Di Maria ready for one last dance, Argentina need to be respected as we head into the World Cup. They once lost three consecutive finals, could they now win three in a row? Rule them out at your peril.

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