Argentina’s final act of combativeness after World Cup defined by it

The World Cup win was delivered by one divine player and a squad built on defiance

Miguel Delaney
Monday 19 December 2022 20:28 GMT
Argentina players sing song insulting journalists after winning World Cup

On a night of sensory overload, it was perhaps fitting that the last few scenes were almost as bright and loud as what had come before.

You heard the Argentina squad before you saw them, the thin walls of the mixed zone shuddering and falling over with their bangs and jumps.

It was more than three hours after Gonzalo Montiel had powered in his penalty and they finally came through, ostensibly to speak to media.

Except, they only sang at them, Lionel Messi lifting the World Cup with everyone else looking up at it and him adoringly, while constantly chanting the same lyrics.

“It doesn’t matter what those whore journalists say, the whore that gave birth to them.”

That was a chant that started in the 2021 Copa America, that first international trophy that was so important in uniting this group for this World Cup, as a backlash to some of the criticism of Lionel Scaloni’s group.

It was one last little conflict, a show of the combativeness that has characterised this team’s World Cup – not least in the final. A point was made.

The Argentine players would not be stopping to speak. It was actually the first time Messi didn’t fulfil his media duties all tournament, although it’s fair to say that letting The Independent watch him dance up and down with the World Cup from just two feet away was a more valuable moment than any mixed words. This was football history. These are the events you remember.

Many of the Argentine players may not remember too much of this, mind, but only because it was one of such rapturous joy they are lost in the moment. It’s impossible to take it in, and it can only be embraced.

That is probably why it is equally fair to say we may not have got much sense of them. In many of the social media posts, many of the Argentina players were just cursing, unable to believe what had happened.

It looked like almost a religious experience, especially as Messi was lifted onto the shoulders of an adoring crowd of hundreds on the Lusail pitch itself.

And there is the bigger question, when all is cleared and the blue and white colours cleared away, of what this victory actually means?

What can be taken from it? What does this World Cup victory say? What is its legacy in terms of the football and as a historic landmark in the game’s history?

The identity of the team itself doesn’t actually say much.

It is the historic outlier of having a player who can now be called the greatest in history, his immense range of gifts elevating a squad that is otherwise good rather than anywhere near great.

Argentina weren’t always convincing. They were often highly vulnerable, and it was consistent with the rest of this World Cup that they came so close to going out.

They weren’t unified or made unique by any greater football idea or any wider football culture, given the long-term dysfunction within the Argentine game.

Through that, though, they did break a trend that makes this triumph historically important for reasons beyond Messi lifting Argentina to his first World Cup and their third.

Had France achieved victory, after all, it would have been the fourth successive World Cup won by a wealthy Western European country with an industrialised youth production. It would have also made it at least 24 years since a team from outside Europe won it.

That is of immense importance. In this period of gross financial inequality in the game, it badly requires that redistribution and it is something that World Cup wins obviously help with.

It’s one thing that Gianni Infantino, for all his clumsy attempts to be more prominent at the moment of Messi’s most profound glory, is right on.

It’s also one other way the brilliant Scaloni got this tournament right. That is where there might well be a lesson.

When you add it all up, Argentina didn’t have a team or a squad as good as France. You could maybe say similar when comparing them to a lot of teams at this World Cup.

They did have a fight and fine tactical adaptability, though, that made them more effective than anyone else.

How many times did Scaloni change shape to reshape games? It was deeply impressive, and something that had been missing in squads that had a Messi closer to his peak and far better players.

That really should not be overlooked. That’s almost the irony of this victory, and Scaloni’s great feat of alchemy to go with Messi’s wonders.

Scaloni was masterful in plotting his team’s run through the tournament

It meant Argentina were in your face but had a calculating mindset behind it. It all added up to an emotional momentum that took them beyond France and everyone else.

Even in a match that went to the extremes, there were arguably only 15 minutes when France were the better team – when they turned it on – and that was when they were chasing. There at that stage only looked like one winner but it didn’t last long.

Once it was level, Argentina went back above. Messi, who had given away the ball for Kylian Mbappe’s superb second, was back running the game. He even could have won the game before extra time with that exceptional drive from distance.

What a way to win it that would have been – and yet it still feels like that this was the only way it could have gone, and consequently the best way it could have gone.

It just emphasised the qualities that really won Argentina the World Cup, Messi’s divine ability with team defiance.

Argentina looked certain to win the World Cup twice in the 120 minutes, only for so much doubt to return. That could have killed other sides, especially once it got to penalties. As in the group stage, as against Australia, as against the Netherlands.

That made it all the more fitting, as well as all the more joyous. They of course had to go through suffering to get there. It couldn’t have been done any other way, really.

It does show the value in old-fashioned spirit and defiance, though, of intangible qualities that just go beyond the logic of France being the better team.

This match often went beyond logic. It was driven by emotion – exactly like Argentina.

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