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SPORTS | 06-07-2019 12:10

Albiceleste contemplate next step after another painful loss

Eliminated by their arch-rivals Brazil, the national team looks set to head back to the drawing board, with its focus firmly on the future.

The Albiceleste remain optimistic about the future, despite another year without a title.

There is some hope going forward after the team’s 2-0 loss to Brazil in the semi-finals of the Copa América on Tuesday, a result that extended the team’s 26-year run without a trophy.

“There are some good and important players coming up who have shown that they love the national team and want to be here,” said veteran Lionel Messi, who turned 32 during the competition. “There’s a future, we have a lot of young players who need to be given time to succeed. We have to respect them.”

Messi, whose only title with Argentina was with the under-23 squad in the 2008 Olympics, said the national team can still count on him.

“If I have to help somehow, I’ll do it,” he said. “I felt comfortable with this group of players.”

It was a much different reaction than Messi had after the team’s loss in the 2016 Copa América final, when he said he was done with the national team. The Barcelona playymaker had already lost the 2015 Copa América final and the 2014 World Cup final with Argentina.

Messi, Sergio Agüero and Ángel Di María were the only players from this squad who played in the 1-0 loss to Germany in the 2014 World Cup final. The current team was filled with younger players and was led by inexperienced coach Lionel Scaloni, who took over as an interim solution for a national team that arrived in Brazil carrying few expectations.

Among the younger players who did well in the Copa América were Tottenham Hotspur’s Juan Foyth, Udinese winger Rodrigo De Paul and Inter Milan striker Lautaro Martínez.

Although the team gradually improved under Scaloni, the coach is not expected to remain at the helm entering World Cup qualifying and next year’s Copa América, which Argentina will co-host with Colombia.

“I don’t think it’s time to talk about that, it’s not what I’m worried about right now,” said the 41-year-old, a former national team player. “I’m concerned about my players after this defeat.”

INSTABILITY Scaloni is the eighth Albiceleste coach since José Pekerman left after the team’s elimination in the quarter-finals of the 2006 World Cup, a sign of the instability that has gripped the national side in recent years.

The Argentine Football Association (AFA), itself in constant turmoil, has had trouble persuading the nation’s renowned coaches to take over the squad, including Marcelo Gallardo of River Plate, Atlético Madrid’s Diego Simeone and Mauricio Pochettino of Tottenham.

Other, more likely candidates to become the next coach include Gabriel Heinze of Vélez Sarsfiel, Gabriel Milito of Estudiantes and Hernán Crespo of Banfield, former national team players who have achieved good results locally in their early coaching careers.

Before any decision about the future is made, the Albiceleste will play the third-place playoff against Chile today in São Paulo.

The next goal will be qualifying for the 2022 World Cup, with the first qualifier set for March next year.

by BY ERIC NÚÑEZ AND DÉBORA REY

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