The 2014 World Cup final in Brazil was supposed to be Lionel Messi’s crowning moment, the chance for him to take his place alongside Diego Maradona in Argentina’s pantheon of heroes.
Instead, defeat by Germany set in motion four years of chaos in the international set-up that has brought one of the great footballing nations to its knees and leaves the South Americans staring at an ignominious early exit in Russia.
Barring an unlikely sequence of results, this gilded generation of players looks like being forever remembered for a succession of bitter defeats.
Argentina’s struggles in Russia should come as no surprise after their pre-tournament preparations were wrecked by controversy and poor form, coupled with a reliance on a top-heavy, limited squad.
They found themselves at the centre of an Israel-Palestinian spat over the cancellation of a World Cup warm-up match following an unconvincing qualifying campaign.
The game against Israel, planned to take place in Jerusalem, was called off after a campaign by the Palestinians following its relocation from the northern city of Haifa.
It meant they arrived in Russia with a 4-0 win against 104th-ranked Haiti in May as their only outing since an ominous 6-1 loss to Spain in March.
Argentina almost failed to qualify for the World Cup in the first place. They were on the brink of missing out on the finals for the first time since 1970 before Messi’s hat-trick against Ecuador dragged them over the line. -AFP