Argentina are not very good. It’s important to get that out of the way early. Due to a host of factors not entirely in the team’s control—particularly the fact that they have only been playing together for about a year due to federation turmoil—the Albicelestes head into France with more questions than answers. And yet their very existence in the tournament, even as one of the worst teams in the World Cup, is a success worth celebrating.
After the 2015 Pan-Am Games, the broke and dysfunctional Argentina soccer federation stopped funding the women’s team for about two years. Even after a return to playing for the 2018 Copa América Femenina, players were paid late and travel expenses often went unpaid. (This problem is not exclusive to the women, as the men have also clashed with the AFA.) Despite what was essentially a two-year gap without a national team, Argentina still finished third at the Copa América, earning a spot in the CONMEBOL-CONCACAF playoff for a spot in the World Cup. They stomped Panama 5-1 on aggregate, and so they head to France as one of the final teams to qualify.
On the actual field, Argentina have the tools to at least not be a walkover for the better teams in their group. Lining up in a conservative 4-3-3, the Argentines will look to control the middle of the park, though they will have to rely on one player to transition the ball from the midfield into dangerous positions. That player is Levante’s Estefanía Banini, who has made her mark in South America, the NWSL, and Europe (she previously played for Valencia). A creative midfielder with a nose for goal, Banini will be the fulcrum of the Argentine attack, and a much needed one at that. She’s the only truly elite player in the side, and is the one who will look to dribble past defenses that won’t show the rest of the attack much respect.
Aside from Banini, Argentina’s most valuable asset is knowing exactly who is going to play and how. Despite the short warm-up period after the 2018 Copa América, tenured coach Carlos Borrello has his starting XI and his system locked down. There may be questions about their talent and fit, but there should be no surprises. The backline is solid in that South American way. They won’t win any awards for their elegance, but the foursome of Agustina Barroso, Aldana Cometti, Adriana Sachs, and Eliana Stabile will be hard to get by, and will pick up cards by virtue of existing. The one tactical tweak Borrello has fooled around with is a back three, allowing for a wider set-up than their usual formation.
Should Argentina lose with dignity to England and Japan, and then snatch up a point against Scotland, they will have had a creditable tournament. Even earning a single point in the tournament would be the Albicelestes’ best finish at a World Cup ever. In their two previous attempts, in 2003 and 2007, they went out with zero points and an aggregate goal difference of minus-31. The aforementioned scenario would also help shine a light on the under-funded side back home. After half a decade in the wilderness, Argentina are back on the world stage, and that’s enough to celebrate, regardless of what happens in France.
Goalkeepers: Vanina Correa (Rosario Central), Gaby Garton (Sol de Mayo), Solana Pereyra (UAI Urquiza)
Defenders: Agustina Barroso (Madrid CFF), Eliana Stábile (Boca Juniors), Adriana Sachs (UAI Urquiza), Aldana Cometti (Sevilla), Natalie Juncos (N/A)
Midfielders: Vanesa Santana (Logroño), Ruth Bravo (Tacón), Estefanía Banini (Levante), Florencia Bonsegundo (Sporting Huelva), Virginia Gómez (Rosario Central), Miriam Mayorga (UAI Urquiza), Lorena Benítez (Boca Juniors), Mariela Coronel (Granada), Gabriela Chávez (River Plate), Mariana Larroquette (UAI Urquiza), Dalila Celia Ippólito (River Plate)
Forwards: Yael Oviedo (Rayo Vallecano), Sole Jaimes (Lyon), Belén Potassa (UAI Urquiza), Milagros Menéndez (UAI Urquiza)
Los Albicelestes (The White-and-sky blues)
As outlined above, Borrello will deploy the team in a standard 4-3-3, with Banini the key player in the midfield as a more attacking presence (in some ways, it shifts into a 4-2-3-1 in action, though Banini will have to track back to collect the ball from the pivots). The attacker to watch for is Milagros Menéndez, the 22-year-old who plays for Urquiza in Argentina. She’s got size and pace to trouble defenses that underestimate the Argentina offense, and she should be on the receiving end of Banini’s treks and balls into the box.
Next to Banini will likely be Vanesa Santana and Ruth Bravo, who will have the joint duty of breaking up attacks before they can run into the defense, as well as recycling possession. They will not provide much in attack, a rather painful analogue for how the men’s team plays around Messi. There’s just not enough creative talent on the side to not rely on Banini, and her work-rate and spark will be what drives Argentina forward.
Argentina’s back line will play a contain-style of defense, with center-backs Barroso and Cometti sitting a bit deeper than the fullbacks (Sachs and Stabile), who don’t venture forward as often as is common in the modern game. They might be forced back anyway, given the winger talent in their group, particularly against England’s Nikita Parris. Goalkeeper will be an interesting selection for Borrello, as he has three veterans ready to go; look for Vanina Correa to start, but if she struggles, Gaby Garton and Solana Pereyra are there to slot in as needed.
June 10, 12 p.m.: Argentina vs. Japan at Parc des Princes
June 14, 3 p.m.: England vs. Argentina at Stade Océane
June 19, 3 p.m.: Scotland vs. Argentina at Parc des Princes
All times Eastern