In an exclusive interview with Sky Sports, Argentina’s World Cup winner Nicolas Tagliafico shares his memories of their ‘Hollywood’ moment, who will play him in the movie, why they are still winning, and how they brought the best of the great Lionel. Messi
By means of Adam Bate, Comment and Analysis @ghostgoal
20:00, UK, Monday 30 October 2023
It was the biggest World Cup final of all but Nicolas Tagliafico didn’t quite watch it. He has sat out the first 90 minutes but despite knowing there will be a happy ending, even he has yet to face extra-time and penalties.
“It’s not for people with heart problems,” he said Sky Sports.
He was talking, of course, about Argentina’s victory over France. Two goals by Lionel Messi. Three by Kylian Mbappe. A lead is lost, restored and lost again. That save by Emiliano Martinez. Lautaro Martinez’s moment. And, finally, Gonzalo Montiel’s penalty to win the World Cup.
“I know, sure, I’ll watch it many times.” But not yet.
Tagliafico was replaced in the 121st minute. “I was exhausted from the heat and the adrenaline. I sat down and I couldn’t get up again because I was so tired.” Even in those short moments before the penalty shootout, both teams had opportunities to win it.
“I remember watching the people on the screen. Everyone in the stadium froze. You couldn’t hear a sound. And then, there was that amazing save. I couldn’t believe it. Neither could anyone in the stadium. And then, our chance at last. It was close.”
Much of what followed remains a blur. But he remembers the celebrations when they returned to Argentina. “When we came back to Buenos Aires and saw the people it was amazing and I will remember it for the rest of my life,” said Tagliafico.
“You play for what you love. But you also feel that you are playing for your country. As the World Cup progresses, we feel that we are playing for the people. We feel it, even from a distance. That’s more that push for us to go and win the World Cup.”
For Messi, this is the end of Hollywood. For Tagliafico, it’s the script that has it all. “All the ingredients are there,” he said. “Action, drama and suspense.” But who will play him in the movie? “It would be a supporting role,” he laughed. “I can play by myself.”
As with most great movies, there is always a public demand for a sequel. In this case, few expected it. After all, this is a team led by Messi, now 36. Argentina’s other goal in the final was scored by Angel Di Maria, now 35.
And yet, what seems to be the climax of a dream continues, its protagonists refuse to wake up. Argentina have not only won all eight of their matches since the World Cup, they have won all of them without even conceding a goal. The dream continues.
“If the result had been different, if we hadn’t won the World Cup, maybe Leo wouldn’t be here today. But he is. That tells you everything about the unity of this group.”
As a result, it threatens to become a dynasty. Argentina are already champions of South America and the world under Lionel Scaloni. The only loss in more than four years was the opening match against Saudi Arabia in Qatar. “After that, everything was perfect.”
Argentina’s greatest team of all? “I haven’t seen them all but this is one of the best I’ve seen. We have this amazing ability to adapt. We can play with and without the ball, press and defend. That clarity is what makes us a good team.”
It will take time to find the best way to use the greatest player of all, something Tagliafico freely admits. The tendency is to look to Messi to solve every problem. “At first, when this Scaloni project started, a lot of that happened,” he explained.
“We continued to look for Leo. Then, we realized that Leo should be part of the team instead of doing everything. In that sense, we grew a lot. In the games where Leo didn’t play, the team changed a little .And then, when he came back, it changed again.
“Leo is still fundamental. Of course, we look at him. But we don’t do it first. We look for the right pass before we look at him. He is part of the team and we are part of him. We help each other Others. That’s the key. By not trusting Leo, we’re helping him be his best, too.”
Tagliafico himself has established himself as a leader on and off the pitch. “I think this is my best chance.” There was even a first goal for Argentina against Bolivia recently. “It’s a very special one. It’s not good for me to have played 50 games without scoring.”
There is no thought of ending his international adventure. He was having too much fun. A strong left-back, he is comfortable in his own game at the age of 31. His job is to bring discipline and determination to the defence. “That’s what I mean,” he said.
“I know my shortcomings as a player but in defense I am strong. Duels, tackles, make interceptions. My game has to be focused all the time. But I can do whatever the team needs , whether that means playing tall, playing inside. , playing outside. Whatever.”
This is part of Argentina’s secret. Everyone knows and enjoys their roles. But what drives the team that wins it all? Alexis Mac Allister admitted he would have been happy to retire after the World Cup uprising and Tagliafico agreed. So, what are the targets now?
“Alexis is right but the motivation now is in detail not in excess,” said Tagliafico. “Just enjoying football, the little things, the little moments.” Another moment could be just around the corner when they return to the Maracana to take on Brazil.
Argentina beat them there to win the Copa America final in 2021 but Brazil have yet to lose a World Cup qualifier on home soil. The match will take place just a few days after Argentina hosts Uruguay in the Clasico del Rio de la Plata in Buenos Aires.
“They give you the biggest buzz when you beat them. They are the toughest teams to face and we can face them both in the same week. We think we are at a good level and we know that we have nothing to prove. But that will show us the level we are at.
“We want to show who is the best team in South America. Those games are there to really show that. The challenge is to maintain it over time. This is our biggest goal – to keep this streak going. We’re going to go for the Copa America and keep this chance.”
One wonders if fear is a factor in this extraordinary run, with the sense of danger working in their favor. At every stage, from the Copa America to the World Cup, the threat of Messi leaving, which has lifted the curtain on this season, has been there.
When you’re living the dream, it’s a powerful motivator.
“We just want to keep it going,” Tagliafico said. “This is one of the best moments in our history and we don’t want it to end so we’re giving everything to make sure it doesn’t. juice out of it.”
And if they reach another final, he’ll settle for something less tense than last time. “A boring 2-0?” He laughed. “We’ll take that.”