Five years after they met in the World Cup final, Argentina and Germany are in the middle of difficult transitions. The South American side travel to Dortmund without their captain and several other big name players.
The weekend withdrawal of Toni Kroos from Germany’s friendly with Argentina on Wednesday took the number of 2014 World Cup final survivors down to one in each squad.
Manuel Neuer, who will be replaced by Marc-Andre ter-Stegen for this one, and Marcos Rojo, a defender who can’t even break in to the worst Manchester United side in decades, are the two men. The churn evident in both national teams speaks to their struggles to move on to the next generation.
Among the retired and discarded, it’s the absence of Lionel Messi that really stands out, with the Barcelona great serving a three month international ban for comments criticizing South American governing body Conmebol during this year’s Copa America.
That competition started with a group stage defeat to Colombia and a draw against Paraguay and ended with a 2-0 semifinal defeat to arch-rivals Brazil. The Albiceleste only recorded victories over Qatar and Venezuela. Even so, Lionel Scaloni – initially appointed as a caretaker coach after Argentina’s second-round World Cup exit – was given the job on a permanent basis, apparently with Messi’s blesing.
“I think they got it right in giving him the job permanently and the space and time he needs to work with the national team,” the 32-year-old told FIFA.com recently after winning their ‘The Best’ award.
But he isn’t the only notable absentee in a traveling Argentina squad short on stardust. Angel di Maria, Sergio Aguero and Mauro Icardi are all left out, as Scaloni tries to plot a path forward ahead of another Copa America next June, a result of a change to move the South American continental competition in line with the Euros.
The absence of players from River Plate and Boca Juniors due to their meeting in the second leg of the Copa Libertadores semifinals later this month means an even more unfamiliar look to Scaloni’s squad.
Rojo and fellow defender Nicolas Otamendi are the only players to have featured more than 30 times for their country, with the three goalkeepers sharing six caps and an average age of 28.
With Messi likely to only have one more World Cup in him, the impetus for Scaloni, who wasn’t a popular choice among the country’s fans, to try and build a new core is similar to that currently felt by Germany coach Joachim Löw, who has had mixed results of late.
With the likes of Serge Gnabry, Leroy Sane, Niklas Süle and Joshua Kimmich, Löw at least appears to have a core of players ready to compete at the highest level.
Scaloni doesn’t quite have the same luxury. Paulo Dybala has yet to really fire for his country, scoring just twice – in a friendly against Mexico and the third place Copa America playoff against Chile – in his 26 international appearances and the current squad features relatively few others playing at the very top level.
But hope that some of the goalscoring burden can be removed from Messi has recently arrived in the shape of Lautaro Martinez. The 22-year-old Inter Milan forward’s hat-trick in a different friendly against Mexico recently has taken his tally to nine goals in 13 caps.
The changing of the guard and need for experimentation has also proved benficial to a number of players based in Germany. Leonardo Balerdi (Borussia Dortmund), Lucas Alario (Bayer Leverkusen) and Nicolas Gonzalez (Stuttgart) have all been included despite failing to make a significant impact in the the Bundelisga, though Gonzalez does have three in five games following Stuttgart’s relegation last season.
With Argentina’s absentees and lack of experience and Germany’s recent struggles, it’s apparent that neither of these two footballing superpowers are at the height of their powers. But, with six World Cups between them, these two heavyweights will be keen to show they’re capable of rising from the canvas.