The Season Ticket
21st Century Best XI: Argentina
David Gorman picks his best eleven of 21st century Argentina internationals.
Will Carlos Tevez, Gonzalo Higuain or Sergio Aguero get the nod up front?
Read on for David’s team and the reasoning behind his choices.
Goalkeeper: Sergio Romero
Argentina have not been blessed with many exceptional goalkeepers in this century and nobody that can lace the boots of Ubaldo Fillol from the 1970s. So in the absence of great options, few are more reliable than Sergio Romero. He has been an able deputy to David De Gea at Manchester United since 2015 and there are few better back-up keepers in the world. Internationally, he has won 96 caps, won an Olympic Gold medal and played in the World Cup final in a distinguished international career.
Replacement: Roberto Abbondanzieri
Right-back: Javier Zanetti
There was a meme going around for a while about how Javier Zanetti’s face has not aged over his 20-year playing career and you could say the same thing about him as a player. He had a superb campaign for Inter Milan in their treble-winning season in 2010 at 36 years old. He was capped for Argentina in 1994 and joined Inter in 1995 and continued playing there until 2014. He was a model of consistency for Inter as he made 858 appearances while he made 143 appearances for Argentina. A legend.
Replacement: Pablo Zabaleta
Centre-back: Roberto Ayala
The best pure Argentinian centre-back of his generation, Ayala was consistently named as among the best in his position in the early 2000s. After he failed to make a mark at Milan at the turn of the century, he came into his own at Valencia, where he helped lead them to two La Liga titles, two Champions League finals (he was named best defender in the 2000-01 Champions League) and a UEFA Cup win. Valencia haven’t reached those heights since. For Argentina he had 115 caps and they have sorely missed a defensive presence like him since he retired in 2007.
Replacement: Nicolas Otamendi
Centre-back: Walter Samuel
Hard as nails, Walter Samuel was an old-school Argentinian defender who wasn’t afraid of the dark arts but could defend impeccably as well. Samuel was superb for Roma in the early 2000s as they won the Serie A title in 2000-01. After four strong years there, an expensive move to Real Madrid followed, which didn’t work out, but he returned to Serie A with Inter and won the treble for Inter Milan in 2010. From his Inter years onwards he had some bad injuries, which meant he only had 56 caps for Argentina.
Replacement: Gabriel Heinze
Left-back: Juan Pablo Sorin
Juan Pablo Sorin flitted around Europe to varying degrees of success in the first decade of the 21st century, but was a consistent presence for his country, with 75 caps for Argentina. At club level, he peaked at Villarreal, where he helped them to reach the semi-finals of the Champions League, the best result in their history. He was also a member of the exciting 2006 Argentina team that played the most attractive football in the competition.
Replacement: Marcos Rojo
Defensive midfield: Javier Mascherano
One of the great defensive stoppers of his time, Javier Mascherano spent his career for club and country at the highest level winning the ball back for more technical players in the centre-back and defensive midfield positions. Mascherano was a good centre-back for Barcelona but was always better when playing the holding midfield role he played for his country, where he was arguably their second-best player en route to the World Cup final in 2014. At Barcelona he won five La Ligas and two Champions Leagues, while he won two gold medals for Argentina. But like Messi, he will rue his near misses for Argentina, he finished second in the Copa America four times and lost in the World Cup final in 2014.
Replacement: Fernando Gago
Defensive midfield: Esteban Cambiasso
The history of Real Madrid in the Galactico era often points out to the mistake of letting Claude Makelele go, who allowed the famous attacking players to flourish. But what is also not mentioned is they also let the next best thing go, as Cambiasso proved to be one of the best defensive midfielders in European football over the next number of years. Another player who peaked in Inter’s treble-winning side, Cambiasso typified Mourinho’s spirit as Inter took down defending champions Barcelona over two legs. Internationally he was inexplicably left out of the 2010 World Cup squad by Diego Maradona, but in 2006 he made his mark by scoring that famous 24-pass Argentine goal against Serbia and Montenegro. Cambiasso wasn’t known for tika-taka but showed he was flexible enough to play in many systems.
Replacement: Juan Sebastian Veron
Attacking midfield: Juan Roman Riquelme
A Rolls-Royce of a footballer, Riquelme is something that is a dying breed today, a traditional number 10. And Riquelme was the uniquely Argentinian variety, the “enganche”, perfect in the hole between the midfield and attack. Riquelme never truly conquered Europe, with a disappointing spell at Barcelona, but in 2006 he masterminded Villarreal’s run to the semi-finals of the Champions League, then Argentina’s run to the quarter-finals of the World Cup as an elegant and technical playmaker. He only played 51 times for Argentina, last time in 2008, but they have missed him ever since. In 2007 Copa America, he linked expertly with Messi and it is a shame they did not play more often together.
Replacement: Pablo Aimar
Winger: Angel Di Maria
Excellent as a winger or attacking midfielder, Angel Di Maria peaked in 2014 when he was named man of the match as Real Madrid won the Champions League final, then was one of the main attacking players alongside Messi in Argentina’s run to the 2014 World Cup final. Missing the final through injury, one wonders how that final would have panned out with Di Maria in the side. For Real Madrid, he was a livewire with a wand of a left foot. His big money move to Man United didn’t work out, but has continued to impress at Paris Saint-Germain.
Replacement: Maxi Rodriguez
Winger/Free role: Lionel Messi
The easiest pick of the lot, Lionel Messi is one of the greatest players of all-time. Messi has scored 697 goals in 856 games for Barcelona and Argentina, while being arguably the best dribbler and passer in the game. Messi is the complete attacking players and he has won nine La Ligas, four Champions Leagues and six Ballon d’Ors at Barcelona. But for Argentina, the only trophy he has won is Gold medal in the Olympics and has lost three Copa America finals and a World Cup final. It is worth noting though that he won the Golden Ball for best player in the 2014 World Cup and two of those were lost cruelly on penalties, one in extra time. The world is watching to see if Messi can win a trophy for Argentina when football returns.
Striker: Sergio Aguero
A tough one for the striker spot as Argentina have been blessed with an unusual number of top-class strikers in the past 20 years, while they have struggled to find a functioning defence or a deep-lying midfield playmaker. To name just a few who miss out here: Gonzalo Higuain, Diego Milito, Hernan Crespo and Paolo Dybala. Gabriel Batistuta would get into an all-time team, but he played nearly all his best football in the 1990s rather than the 2000s. That leaves it between Sergio Aguero and Carlos Tevez, and both have compelling arguments. But it’s hard to argue with Aguero’s goal record, even if his international career has been slightly disappointing. Aguero has scored 396 goals in 699 games for Argentina, Atletico Madrid and Man City. For Man City, he has been one of the best players in Premier League history, winning four league titles.
Replacement: Carlos Tevez