[OP-ED]: What is the problem with Argentina?
The tough defeat at Brazilian soil, 3-0, frightened many soccer fans that questioned Argentina’s chances to qualify for the 2018 Russia World Cup. Anyhow, Leo Messi put things back on track with an amazing performance on Tuesday during his country’s win over Colombia by the same score, 3-0.
Do not even think in betting against Argentina playing at the 2018 World Cup!
In the South American qualifying group, they are fifth right now behind Brazil, Uruguay, Chile and Ecuador. But only one point separates the Argentineans from the last two. Colombia is sixth a point behind Argentina. Six games remain for all the teams. The first four make it directly to the World Cup, while the fifth squad will need to play a wild card round against the winner of Oceania, probably New Zealand, which does not seem hard at all for a team as strong as Argentina.
But, there is a big problem and it is not only Argentina’s. All South American soccer is in trouble and the matter worsens as time goes by. The Japan and Korea World Cup (2002) was the last one won by an American continent country. At the time, South America led Europe in World Cup titles, 9-8. Since then, the Old Continent has won the three that have been played (2006, 2010 and 2014).
For the first time South American squads did not win World Cups that were not held in European soil (2010 in South Africa and 2014 in Brazil). In fact, in the three World Cups only once a country from the American continent made it to the championship game (Argentina in the Brazil tournament).
The reason behind this process is very simple. Money and prestige from the European club leagues have attracted all the South American big players, making very hard to bring national teams together. When the stars played for River Plate, Santos or Peñarol things were very different than nowadays when they play for Barcelona, Juventus or Manchester City.
The distances these players have to travel for national team games are outrageous. At the end, this process is hard on the athletes’ bodies and keeps South American managers away from creating cohesive teams.
Let’s take as example Messi and FC Barcelona’s teammate Sergio Busquets, who is always called to represent Spain. In the last days, Messi traveled from Barcelona to Belo Horizonte to play a very tough match at Brazil on Thursday night (Friday on Messi’s body clock). From there, he went to San Juan, Argentina, to face Colombia in a must-win situation. Then back to Barcelona, where he will play on Saturday.
In the other hand, Busquets took a one-hour flight to Granada, Spain, where his country had an easy contest against weak Macedonia. Then, he crossed the English Channel to play a friendly game at Wembley Stadium in London. In the second half, his manager removed him from the field, so he could rest.
Talking in approximate figures:
- Time consumed by Messi on travel (airport layovers not included): 29 hours.
- Time consumed by Busquets on travel: 6 hours.
- Total amount of miles travelled by Messi: 14,000.
- Total amount of miles travelled by Busquets: 3,000.
If we also consider South American stars cross the Ocean up to five times a year to play World Cup qualifying rounds, we can easily have the sense of how Argentina and the rest of the top national teams from the American continent are losing ground on their European rivals.