Argentina 2014 & 2022: World Cup Combined XI

Who makes a combined Argentina XI from the 2014 & 2022 teams?
Who makes a combined Argentina XI from the 2014 & 2022 teams? / Soccrates Images/GettyImages

Argentina are back in a World Cup final and Lionel Messi has one final chance to secure in his grasp the lone trophy that has eluded him in his illustrious career so far.

As narratives go, they don't come any bigger than this. In 2014, Alejandro Sabella's gritty and uncompromising Argentina side reached the final on the back of Messi's individual brilliance in the group stages and a run of 330 minutes without conceding a goal in the knockouts.

A predictably gruelling contest with Germany followed, with Mario Gotze's 113th-minute strike the only goal to separate the two teams.

But how does that Argentina team stack up to the current one?

Here's 90min's combined XI between the two, taking into account their respective performances at the tournament and the overall balance of the team.

GK - Emi Martinez (2022)

Let's put it this way: Emi Martinez isn't letting that Gotze chest-and-volley get past him from that narrow an angle in a World Cup final. Not a chance.

Romero, to his credit, was the unsung hero against Switzerland in the last 16 and then during Argentina's penalty shootout victory in the semi-final, saving spot-kicks from Ron Vlaar (yep, Ron Vlaar in a World Cup semi-final, who was outstanding that game) and Wesley Sneijder.

That being said, Martinez has matched that with two penalty saves against the Netherlands in this tournament and a vital stop at the death against Australia. Overall, he is the much better goalkeeper.

RB - Pablo Zabaleta (2014)

No contest, this one. As solid as Nahuel Molina and Gonzalo Montiel have been in Qatar, with Molina scoring that brilliant goal against the Netherlands courtesy of some Messi clairvoyance, they don't hold a candle to prime Pablo Zabaleta.

The Manchester City legend was one of the best right-backs in the world at his peak, particularly coming off the back of the Premier League title in 2014. Like the rest of the Argentina team, he improved as the tournament went on in Brazil and only fading legs against fresh ones caused the winner for Germany in the final to come down his side.

CB - Ezequiel Garay (2014)

Maybe a slightly surprising inclusion given the performance of Cristian Romero during this World Cup, Ezequiel Garay was the most underrated starting player of the finalists from 2014.

Exceptional in the air and composed on the ball, Garay never quite earned the plaudits he deserved during his career. He played every minute in Brazil - his first and only World Cup - and was the rock upon which the miserly Argentinian defence was built during the knockout stages. Garay also converted his penalty in the semi-final shootout against the Netherlands.

CB - Nicolas Otamendi (2022)

Another former Manchester City player, Otamendi is experiencing something of a renaissance with Benfica and the Argentina national team. In Qatar, he's been a dependable and consistent presence at the back and appears to be one of Lionel Scaloni's on-field generals, along with Rodrigo De Paul.

At 34, Otamendi looks like a weak link on paper but his battling performances have belied his age and he has deservedly kept Lisandro Martinez out of the starting line-up, a feat in itself.

LB - Marcos Rojo (2014)

Speaking of weak links, Marcos Rojo looked a major one for Argentina heading to Brazil in 2014. Always more of a centre-back, he was playing slightly out of position on Argentina's left but excelled throughout the tournament, even scoring the winner against Nigeria in the group stages.

Rojo's performances were so impressive that he was named in the FIFA All-Star team, whatever that is, and then snapped up for £16m by Manchester United immediately after.

Angel Di Maria
Di Maria could only watch from the side-lines as his team lost to Germany in the final / Chris Brunskill Ltd/GettyImages

RM - Angel Di Maria (2014)

Angel Di Maria's tournament in Brazil ended in tragedy, with the then Real Madrid midfielder limping off the field during the quarter-final with Belgium. He would play no further part in the tournament but his contribution up to that point shouldn't be overlooked: Di Maria had already set up Higuain's goal in that game via a deflected pass and scored to send Argentina through in the round of 16, with a dramatic118th-minute extra-time goal against Switzerland.

At this point in his career, Di Maria was a true difference-maker for club and country and had he stayed fit for the entirety of the tournament things may well have turned out differently.

CM - Javier Mascherano (2014)

Other than Lionel Messi, Javier Mascherano was the standout performer for Argentina during their unlikely run to the final in 2014.

The defensive midfielder's tenacious displays were a highlight throughout the tournament - who can forget the torn anus he sustained with a goal-saving last-ditch block on Arjen Robben in the final moments of the semi-final against the Netherlands?

That, my friends, is football heritage.

While the challenge alone is worthy enough, he also recorded the most tackles, the third-most passes and played in every minute of the tournament for Argentina. Lionel Messi had the armband, but this team's real leader was Mascherano.

CM - Enzo Fernandez (2022)

One of the breakout stars in Qatar, Enzo Fernandez would be the perfect complement to Mascherano in the heart of the Argentina midfield. This could easily be De Paul, who has had a fine if unspectacular tournament himself, but at only 21 years of age Fernandez's performances have really caught the eye.

As it stands, both he and Julian Alvarez appear to be Argentina's long-term future once Messi hangs up his boots following Sunday's final. Fernandez's goal against Mexico - his first for his country - was beyond special.

LM - Alexis Mac Allister (2022)

Scaloni shifted Argentina's formation to a narrow 4-4-2 against Croatia in the semi-final to great effect, meaning we can do the same and place Alexis Mac Allister slightly out of position on the left side of midfield.

The Brighton midfielder has performed a variety of roles for Scaloni so far and done them well in this his first major tournament. At 23, he performs with maturity and assuredness beyond his years and looks every bit as though he belongs on the international stage.

A far better option than fitting in 2014 alternatives such as Enzo Perez and Lucas Biglia, although you can definitely swap in Ezequiel Lavezzi for a more attacking line-up.

Lionel Messi, Julian Alvarez
Messi and Alvarez have formed an incredible partnership during the World Cup in Qatar / Zhizhao Wu/GettyImages

CF - Julian Alvarez (2022)

Given that Sergio Aguero only started the group-stage games at the 2014 World Cup and failed to score before being dropped for the rest of the tournament, it would be unfair to include him here despite his overall talent and legacy.

In contrast, Alvarez broke into the Argentina starting 11 only in their final group game against Poland and has kept his place ever since. The Manchester City forward has been an incredible source of dynamism and attacking spark for what appeared to be an otherwise static Argentina forward line, Messi aside.

He has four goals ahead of Sunday's final, behind only Messi and Kylian Mbappe and tied with Olivier Giroud in second, and has brought the very best out of his strike partner and captain. Many Argentine forwards have tried and failed to properly assimilate with Messi for the national team, including Aguero and even Lautaro Martinez, but Alvarez has managed to do so instantly.

The only shame is that Sunday will likely be their final game together.

CF - Lionel Messi (2014 or 2022)

The Golden Ball winner in 2014 and likely the Golden Ball winner again in 2022 should Argentina get their hands on the trophy, you can take either iteration of Messi for this team. The 2014 edition was arguably closer to his true peak - although that is itself impossible to pinpoint - but the 2022 version is every bit as devastating.

Seeing as we are pairing him with Alvarez here, it makes sense to keep the 2022 Messi that has dovetailed so well with the former River Plate star. Then again, who knows what kind of performances 2014 Messi would have put in with a far more mobile teammate than Gonzalo Higuain to play off?

The greatest player of all time deserves to have a World Cup to his name come Sunday, make no mistake, but should France emerge victorious it would not tarnish his legacy a jot. What a player he is and what a privilege it is to have watched him throughout these tournaments.