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Messi & Icardi in, Otamendi & Di Maria out: The Argentina flops who must stay and go after Copa America failure

12:00 IST 04/07/2019
Angel Di Maria Lionel Messi Mauro Icardi Argentina
The PSG and Manchester City stars were deeply disappointing in Brazil and could be sacrificed as Argentina continue to renew their ranks

Argentina's Copa America adventure may have ended with their heads held high, but once again it was shown that the Albiceleste fall short when it comes to challenging for major honours.

With a host of new faces in the squad and captain Lionel Messi in far from optimal form, the team coached by Lionel Scaloni stumbled through to the knock-out phases in Brazil

A single win against Qatar along with a stalemate played out with Paraguay and defeat to Colombia in Group B was not exactly impressive, yet it was just enough to seal a quarter-final place. 

There, they finally gave fans something to cheer, dispatching dogged Venezuela 2-0 to book a mouth-watering Superclasico in the last four. 

But while hosts Brazil were given a few scares along the way, goals from Gabriel Jesus and Roberto Firmino meant that, unlike in 2015 and 2016, there would be no final appearance for Argentina. 

While the third-place play-off still remains for Messi and Co., thoughts have already turned towards what will come after the Copa. 

A significant part of this inexperienced side should still have a role to play when World Cup qualifying kicks off in 2020 – others, however, may have played their last match for the Albiceleste. 


GOALKEEPERS


The No.1 shirt seems to have settled on the back of one player over the last 12 months. Franco Armani is yet to excel between the posts for Argentina, but the River Plate star has proved dependable enough and will hope to retain his place beyond the Copa. 

Armani's place is by no means secure, though. Behind him America star Agustin Marchesin and young Udinese talent Juan Musso were his deputies in Brazil, and will hope to put pressure on the shot-stopper in the short and medium-to-long term, respectively. 

Musso, 25, is considered one of the best bets for the future in the Argentina ranks and is likely to add to his single cap as the nation uses the rest of 2019 to prepare for qualifying. There could also be room for Esteban Andrada of Boca Juniors, who was forced to miss the Copa through illness. 

Behind that quartet the options are scarce. Geronimo Rulli has never quite managed to follow through on his early promise, while Tottenham reserve Paulo Gazzaniga has also been considered under Scaloni. 

Could there be a way back for Sergio Romero ? The Manchester United man has been entirely overlooked by Scaloni but, at 32, is younger than Armani and could come back into contention if there is a change of coach post-Copa. His lack of first-team action, though, will continue to be used against him despite the keeper's enviable track record at major competitions for his country.

IN: Andrada, Romero.

OUT: Marchesin.


DEFENCE


Once more, Argentina's backline proved the side's Achilles heel when it most counted. Brazil benefited from two huge defensive mistakes to score in Belo Horizonte and much work will have to be done in that sector to restore the Albiceleste to international football's top table. 

Of the current squad, Renzo Saravia and Nicolas Otamendi fared worse than most. Saravia was erratic at right-back and ended up losing his spot to Tottenham rookie Juan Foyth , while Otamendi showed an alarming lack of speed during a calamitous campaign, while his distribution was often atrocious.

With Ramiro Funes Mori also likely to face the chop after failing to play a single minute in Brazil, Argentina are not exactly blessed with alternatives in the back four. 

Gabriel Mercado could benefit from Saravia's woes to regain his place on the right, while young centre-back pairing Emanuel Mammana and Lisandro Martinez are perhaps best-placed to enter the fray. 

IN: Mercado, Mammana, Martinez.

OUT: Saravia, Otamendi, Funes Mori.


MIDFIELD


Of all the Argentina players who failed to shine at the Copa, the case of Angel Di Maria was perhaps the most telling. 

Brought back from the international wilderness after a year out just before the tournament, the PSG winger was immensely frustrating and consistently among Argentina's worst performers. At 31, and with memories of his finest displays for the Albiceleste rapidly fading, it may be time to once and for all close the door on Fideo. 

The rest of the midfield was sharply divided between those who took advantage of the Copa to advance their Argentina cause, and those who fell flat. 

Leandro Paredes , the side's new midfield marshal, Rodrigo De Paul and, to a lesser extent, Giovani Lo Celso, fall in that first group and look set to remain in the Albiceleste's plans for years to come.

The jury is still out, though, on Guido Pizarro , who received just 23 minutes in the entire Copa, while Marcos Acuna never stopped working to give the team balance and defensive cover, even if his individual contributions were limited.

On the other side, the likes of Guido Rodriguez and Roberto Pereyra failed to shine and will most likely be ditched as Argentina explore other options in the middle of the pitch. 

Among those may be Manuel Lanzini , Santiago Ascacibar and young Superliga pair Exequiel Palacios and Matias Zaracho , who both fell victim to injury and were unable to make the plane to Brazil.

IN: Lanzini, Ascacibar, Palacios, Zaracho.

OUT: Di Maria, Rodriguez, Pereyra.


ATTACK


Barring injuries or other misfortune, Argentina's attack should pick itself for the forseeable future.

Lautaro Martinez and Sergio Aguero formed a promising partnership over the last three games of the Copa America, scoring three of the nation's last four goals to take them into the semi-finals. 

Behind them remains Lionel Messi , who if Tuesday's fiery criticisms of the refereeing against Brazil are anything to go by, will not be repeating his retirement announcement of three years ago after defeat to Chile

While that first-choice trio seems set, there should be plenty of competition behind them. Matias Suarez was the fourth striker in Brazil, a curious choice who barely featured and, we trust, will not be repeated.

Mauro Icardi should come back into contention once his interminable soap opera with the Inter board is resolved, while Angel Correa and Gio Simeone are two young faces hoping to play themselves back in contention after being overlooked for Brazil.

IN: Icardi, Correa, Simeone.

OUT: Suarez.


COACH


Despite battling through to the semi-finals, Lionel Scaloni's future at the Argentina is far from certain once the team makes its way back from Brazil. 

A complete coaching novice at senior level, the former Deportivo and Lazio defender looked way out of his depth at the start of the Copa. 

And while results improved, some of his decisions betrayed his inexperience, particularly up against an old warhorse like Tite with almost 30 years of tweaking tactics under his belt. The substitutions against Brazil for one did nothing to aid Argentina's fightback and unbalanced the Albiceleste at a crucial time.

The decision on Scaloni's future will be made by AFA president Claudio Tapia and Argentina manager Cesar Luis Menotti shortly after he returns to Buenos Aires. Early indications suggest he may well stay in the job, for lack of other options rather than any great confidence in his work so far at the helm. 

If Scaloni is removed , Gabriel Heinze , currently impressing with Velez Sarsfield, is a popular choice to succeed him; while Marcelo Gallardo is also coveted following his two Copa Libertadores titles with River, but would be tough to acquire, given his commitment to the Millonarios.