Chaos never appears too far away from Argentina’s national team. The Albiceleste left Barcelona to travel to the World Cup on Saturday after 10 turbulent days in the Catalan capital. And they will now hope for a smooth landing in Russia.
Argentina arrived in Barcelona on May 31, with the location picked to make main man Lionel Messi feel at home. However, the team’s short stay in the city has been shrouded in controversy and commotion.
Initially, the Argentine media complained of too much free time given to the players, while there were no press conferences at all during the entire trip.
Argentina had been set to fly off to Israel on Thursday for their final friendly before travelling to Russia, but amid mounting pressure due to the political situation in the Middle East and threats to Messi in particular, the game was called off.
The Argentina coaching staff had never wanted to play it, anyway, considering that the long trip would not be beneficial just days before the World Cup.
Nevertheless, it would at least have been an opportunity for coach Jorge Sampaoli to try out his formation ahead of the tournament in Russia, having played only one friendly in the build-up to the competition – a 4-0 win over Haiti in Buenos Aires which was more akin to a training fixture.
In March, Sampaoli had hoped to test out his innovative 2-3-3-2 formation with Messi at its heart, stressing his desire to get the best out of the Barcelona attacker ahead of the World Cup.
However, Messi missed the games against Italy and Spain due to an adductor injury and could only watch on in frustration as Sampaoli’s side were thrashed 6-1 by La Roja in Madrid.
In Barcelona, most of the training took place behind closed doors, with only 15 minutes open to the press, and just when it looked like Sampaoli had settled on his best XI, the team were rocked on Friday by the loss of West Ham midfielder Manuel Lanzini to an anterior cruciate ligament injury on his right knee.
After much deliberation, Sampaoli called up the experienced Enzo Perez on Saturday as the team left the Catalan capital to travel to Moscow for the World Cup, where they will face Iceland, Croatia and Nigeria in Group D.
Amid intense debate over that decision and continued criticism of the team and Sampaoli in the media back in Argentina, the chaotic ambience surrounding the Selección looks set to continue. It has hardly been the ideal preparation for a World Cup.