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On matchday three of the 2022 World Cup, Saudi Arabia upset Lionel Messi and Argentina in one of the biggest shockers in the history of the prestigious soccer tournament. There’s a lot of blame to go around on the South American side of Argentina-Saudi Arabia, from Messi and the other forwards not staying onside three different times to goalkeeper Emi Martinez failing to make a big save. However, the biggest culprit in the loss is Argentina manager Lionel Scaloni, who fell into the same old trap Argentine managers of the past have, not playing his best players.

Argentina’s lineup decisions are at fault for World Cup upset

The anatomy of a World Cup upset almost always involves mistakes from the favorite and moments of brilliance from the underdog, and that’s what happened in the Argentina-Saudi Arabia Group C match.

Offside mistakes by Lionel Messi and Lautaro Martinez (twice) can be chalked up to aggressive attacking, and you can’t kill them for that.

However, the defense allowing two goals to a lightweight side like Saudi Arabia is a problem.

On the first goal, both Argentina center-backs, Tottenham’s Christian Romero and Nicolas Otamendi, had a chance to stop the ball before it got into the box, and neither did. Then Romero failed to stay in front of Saleh Al-Shehri, who scored to tie the game.

Goal number two started with an undirected Romero clearance. However, lax defense from the full-back Nahuel Molina and midfielder Leandro Paredes plus an incredible shot from Salem Al-Dawsari created this score.

While you can’t blame Romero or Otamendi for the second goal, the duo is absolutely at fault for the first goal. And the biggest problem there is that Lionel Scaloni had a better CB than both of them, Manchester United’s Lisandro Martinez, on the bench.

Romero missed his last four Premier League games before the World Cup break with an injury, and Otamendi left Manchester City in the EPL for Benfica in Portugal two years ago because he could no longer hack it vs. the best of the best.

On the bench, they had Martinez, who is in excellent form at United and the team’s best defender right now.

If Scaloni had played Martinez, the first goal might not have happened, and Lionel Messi wouldn’t be three points down in the Group Stage of his final World Cup. That said, the GOAT has to be used to this by now. Not playing the best players in the World Cup is an Argentina tradition at this point.

Lionel Messi again victimized by lineup decisions

Lionel Messi of Argentina shows his dejection during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group C match between Argentina and Saudi Arabia.
Lionel Messi | Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

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Lineup and playing-time decisions have victimized Argentina in the past, and Lionel Messi and company suffered from the same issue in the Argentina-Saudi Arabia match in 2022.

In 2018, Argentina manager Jorge Sampaoli only played playmaker Paolo Dybala for 22 minutes in the tournament and started world-class striker Sergio Aguero sporadically. The result was one win, one draw, and one loss in the Group Stage. And in the knockout round against France, without Aguero starting, the team lost to France 4-3. Aguero scored the third goal in stoppage time after a late substitution.

The 2014 World Cup saw Aguero play more than in any other tournament, but manager Alejandro Sabella opted for Gonzalo Higuain over the Manchester City striker in a loss to Germany in the World Cup Finals.

And in the World Cup before that, Argentina legend Diego Maradona only played his then-son-in-law 108 minutes throughout the tournament, opting for Higuain and Carlos Tevez instead.

Not playing the best players on the roster in favor of favored names or longer-tenured veterans has become an Argentina tradition. And in the shocking Argentina-Saudi Arabia upset on Tuesday, that tradition continued to the detriment of Lionel Messi.