World Cup 2018: What lies ahead for Argentina?
We all thought it was over, but here they are.
The last time Argentina did not register a win in the first two games was in 1974 - which was the first time it had happened. After two matches, it looked like nothing was going right for them, and that it was destined to end that way.
Countless fingers were pointed at several people in the following order:
1. Sampaoli (where I voted as well)
2. Lionel Messi (because, why not?)
3. The board for not picking Icardi (because it was the attack that was letting the team down)
4. The rest of the players for not gelling with Messi as his Barca teammates (there might be something there)
As much as the Portugal and Real Madrid fans might have enjoyed the ensuing pandemonium, we are back to reality and Argentina have found their way into the Round of 16, whether you think they deserve it or not.
The only time a team has been able to win the World Cup after not registering a win in the first game was back in 1982 - when Italy won the World Cup. Back then, a win only got you 2 points instead of the 3 now, and Italy drew all their group games and still proceeded to the next round.
Since then, barring Spain's 2010, all the winners have been teams who have dominated from the get-go. Germany beat Portugal 4-0 in their first 2014 match. Italy beat Ghana 2-0 in their 2006 opener. Brazil beat Turkey 2-1 for their 2002 first game. History is not on Argentina's side.
What they do have with them is a group of individuals who can - and should, for all intents and purposes - make up a fine team, but somehow do not. Are we just going to pretend that Di Maria, Dybala, Aguero, Messi and Higuain are not world class?
This abundance of options is another reason why Argentina hasn't been able to deliver so much. Despite several reassurances, Dybala hasn't been able to play alongside Messi - even when the team needed the win yesterday, Meza was preferred to him.
The midfield is basically shot, and without Banega yesterday it would have been a massacre aided by Mascherano's misplaced passes. What should be a legitimately good team on paper, is held together by duct-tape and the occasional drops of glue.
Round of 16
Up next, they will face France - who have looked like the European version of Argentina so far. Despite having several superstars in the team, there is a lack of cohesion in the side, and they look vulnerable without looking weak. Sounds oddly familiar, doesn't it?
They managed to score only 3 goals in the group stage - one of which was an own-goal. Like Argentina, they are yet to figure out their best XI and struggle with a problem of abundance. If there was one favourite this Argentina can be alright with, it will be France.
Oh, don't get me wrong. I am not saying Argentina WILL win here. They could get thrashed 5-0 for all I know. But there is also a good chance that they can beat France 1-2 with a scrappy last minute Otamendi header.
The quarter-final will see them taking on Portugal or Uruguay, and either way, it will be hard. The expectation of a Ronaldo-Messi World Cup game might seem enticing, but Uruguay will not be easy to score against.
With Suarez and Cavani entering scoring form in the last match, it will take a lot out of Portugal to get past them.
These are the draws that are confirmed as of now, and we can speculate about the next opponents, but that would be a little preemptive considering that Argentina first has to beat France. Out of respect for them, we will wait till all the games are written in ink.
It is time for the Albiceleste to go back to the drawing board now. We do not know if Sampaoli is still in control of things, or strings are being pulled by a bearded player who plays his club football in Spain, but Argentina can let no setbacks to occur now.
Momentarily, their fans will be over the moon with them pulling off this win, but a RO16 exit will still incur their wrath. It is not all fun and games, but a loss to France will bring back the wolves and heads will roll.
If, by hook or crook, they manage to go all the way, it will be one of the weirdest World Cup campaigns of all time. And on their day (no matter how rare they are), Argentina are capable of doing it. Whether they want to - like they showed against Nigeria - will be the deciding factor in this second half of the tournament.
Nobody remembers the losses in the group stages. Nobody cares if you make it to the final by the skin of your teeth. What they remember is the name on the trophy at the end of the day. Portugal's Euro win is a glowing example of that.
And as long as Argentina are alive in the tournament, that is all they should focus on.