Amidst all the brouhaha regarding Lionel Messi’s journey towards ultimate glory and his continuous comparison with Diego Maradona, it's worth remembering that Argentina’s preparation for the World Cup in fact started in India, a country ranked 154 in the world.
Alessandro Sabella, the head coach of the Albiceleste took over from Sergio Batista back in 2011 and his first match in charge of the South American side was against Venezuela on 2nd September, 2011.
The match took place in the Yuba Bharati Stadium in Kolkata. It was also a memorable day for Lionel Messi.
The Barcelona player had captained the Albiceleste previously, becoming the youngest player to captain the national side in a World Cup, in their group stage match against Greece. However, it was in Kolkata that the attacker got the honour to lead his team out as a permanent skipper for the first time.
Sabella even pointed out that the match was a stepping stone for the side’s preparation for the World Cup in Brazil.
"Yes, this is my first game in command of the Argentinian national side. Yes, it is the beginning of our journey. It’s important because really it is the beginning of a long trip which I hope will finish with the qualification for the World Cup," he remarked when asked whether the tie should be called the starting point of Argentina's World cup campaign.
Messi & co created plenty of chances in the clash, but could only secure a minimal 1-0 victory, courtesy of a second-half header by Nicolas Otamendi from a corner.
“On a scale of ten I would give my team six today. I will review our performance again later and look to make improvements in the needed areas. The World Cup qualifiers are the most important part and we have to prepare well for it,” Sabella said in the post-match press conference.
|Julian Camino (center) has played as a link between Argentina and India|
If Angel Di Maria is fit for the final, the starting line-up of the World Cup final may have as many as eight of the names that featured in the Kolkata match - Sergio Romero, Pablo Zabaleta, Marcos Rojo, Martin Demichelis, Javier Mascherano, Angel Di Maria, Gonzalo Higuain and Lionel Messi.
The connection of this Argentina squad with India doesn’t end here, as Julian Camino, the current assistant coach of the Argentina national team was a part of the East Bengal squad back in 1988. The right-back primarily played as a holding midfielder for the Red and Golds before his season was cut short by nagging injuries.
After his retirement, Camino became a part of Sabella's coaching team in the Argentine Premier League side Estudiantes, that emerged victorious in the 2009 Copa Libertadores and the 2010 Apertura.
Even if the Latin American outfit fails to get the better of Germany in the final, this will be a memorable final for Messi, who has finally lit up the biggest stage on international football under Sabella’s tutelage. The City of Joy will always have a special place in their hearts for being the pedestal to their success.