Sergio Aguero: World Cup Reflections

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Following what is surely the greatest World Cup Final of all time, and fresh from some wild celebrations, we sat down with Argentina legend Sergio Aguero for one last time in 2022 to dissect the World Cup, how Argentina came back from their opening defeat to Saudi Arabia, and his takeaways from an incredible tournament.

Overall, what did you make of the World Cup in Qatar? There were upsets right from the outset - has there ever been a tournament like this?

It was a championship different from the others and due to many circumstances.

First, because of the time of year in which it was held. In addition, in other World Cups, people travelled from one city to another and the place of concentration was changed.

The squads had another movement.

This World Cup was made in the same city and in some point it turned out better, especially considering the tight schedule.

But it was played very few days apart and that made it difficult for the players to recover, although it was the same for everyone.

In general terms I think it had a good organisation.

Much was made of some of the so-called bigger nations struggling and being beaten by ‘lesser teams - with excuses of the mid-season tournament being thrown about. Was that really a factor, or did we see a levelling out globally of the strength of countries because they have all simply improved technically and tactically?

What happens is that there are many players from countries previously considered inferior who now are playing in Europe or in very competitive leagues.

The best example is Morocco. More than half of its players were born and raised in Europe and play in the big leagues.

But they have improved a lot, they are fearsome rivals and they even reached the semi-finals. What happens is that the spotlight is not always on them.

Another example is what happened to Argentina against Saudi Arabia.

We had a bad 10 minutes and ended up losing.

There were never easy opponents in the World Cups but now the matches are closer than before.

Note that in the group stage the teams that had won their first two games, for example Portugal, France and Brazil, who were already qualified and put some substitutes in the last game, saw their performance diminished and they lost them.

Today everything is very level and you can no longer give the slightest advantage.

In South America, we have seen Argentina thrive and Brazil fail - why is that?

I never really liked the word failure.

Brazil was minutes away from qualifying and ended up eliminated on penalties.

Many matches were defined by details and when the bad hit is difficult to explain.

But Brazil is a great team. Having gone out in the quarter-finals it is logical that it is considered a disappointment, more so because it was one of the candidates, but it does not make it a bad team.

Regarding Argentina, it started with a defeat and that always complicates things.

But the team became strong because each game to play was like a final.

You had to win every game. And that ended up favouring them.

Argentina knew how to control the games, played football that was recognized by all and had a tremendous personality in the face of adversity.

It was clear against the Netherlands and in the final against France.

Any other team could have fallen apart when after winning 2-0 they tied it shortly before the end.

But after that, Argentina overcame with character and a good game and ended up winning.

From an outsider, one thing that stands out is the sheer will, determination and character of Argentina compared to a Brazil side which seemed lacking in that department. Is that a fair assessment?

They are the circumstances of the matches. Brazil had not had to go through moments as complicated as Argentina.

Even so, with that Neymar's great goal was one step away. They are tied a short period from the end and then the penalties leave Brazil out.

Since they lost the first game, Argentina had to go through extreme situations and overcame them time and time again.

That forged the group and made it more solid.

You spoke before the tournament about why Lionel Messi should not have to be compared with Diego Maradona within Argentina - but we have seen in Qatar how Leo became the figure, the leader of this side in a way only Maradona did before. That surely puts him in the same category in the nation’s hearts?

They are two greats, two idols, two legends from very different times.

What happens is that the World Cup had been denied to Leo.

We were very close in 2014 in a game that we deserved to win.

And it is achieved now at 35 years old.

It is a reward for his tenacity, never giving up and always going for revenge.

Along with a group of players and coaching staff who made up a true team.

Leo was always a leader. You should have seen him on the field. But a different leader.

Perhaps now he was more extroverted. But he never stopped being a lighthouse for the team.

What is clear is that after winning the World Cup, as the leader of the team, he is in history and with all the honours.

He has won it all. There is nothing left to prove. And he is in everyone's heart.

You played in World Cups with Messi before, but he seemed a different animal in this tournament. Knowing him so well, what changed in him and led to that?

The experience, knowing that it was perhaps his last chance and deeply wanting to win it.

And a group of players and coaching staff who knew how to accompany him.

Many of them are young people who were very young when Leo was already triumphing at Barcelona.

There was a combination of factors that came together in this Leo.

In essence, he is the same as always but with 35 years and an enormous wisdom that he revealed in each game, being decisive in each of them.

We’ve seen t-shirts showing Leo taunting Weghorst in that interview after the win over Netherlands become an instant hit back in Argentina, and off camera it was you who was having words with the Dutch striker. Now the dust has settled, what was he saying and what did you say to him?

Things that happen on the field, stay on the field. It had been a very tense game with a hot definition.

Those things happen in football and in a World Cup they are more evident.

I just tried to "calm the waters" and wanted him to get away from the place so it doesn't end worse.

Everyone could all see it. It was an exchange of words and nothing more.

Much has been made about the rivalry between Leo and Cristiano Ronaldo. After how this tournament has panned out, can there be any doubt your man is the greatest of his generation?

I don't think there is any doubt.

For me there were no doubts before the World Cup and much less now.

Cristiano has had an extraordinary career and is a very complete athlete. But Leo clearly has been and is the best.

Six world player of the year awards, a glittering club career, and now a World Cup winners medal. Can we now say Leo is the greatest of all time? That’s obviously a hard one to choose with Diego and Pele in the past?

We return to the comparisons, which are always hateful.

I insist that each one represents their time.

Diego and Leo are total idols in my country and they are in everyone's hearts.

And we are lucky that both are Argentine.

It's a privilege.

One big question remains - are Argentina ready to cope without Leo? Who will be their new talisman?

Players like Leo appear from time to time. Hopefully in a few years another one will come out with those conditions.

How Leo appeared after Maradona. In the meantime, we have many young players who are taking over and who have the winning mentality, character and ability to continue competing at the highest level.

Look at what happened during the tournament.

Players like Enzo Fernández, Julián Álvarez, Lisandro Martínez and Mac Allister, just to give a few examples, who initially weren't starters ended up being so and with remarkable performance.

There is a present and there is a future for Argentina.

Julian Alvarez had a magnificent tournament and will head back to Manchester City with a lot of confidence, what did you make of his performances? Can Pep fit him and Haaland into the same system?

Of course. Why not?

It will depend on the scheme that Pep chooses. But Julián showed first at City and now in the world's top competition that he is a decisive player.

In fact, already at the City there were several games in which both played together.

Earlier this season you mentioned Alexis Mac Allister could play in any major European team. Hecame into the Albiceleste after the opening defeat to Saudi Arabia, but he transformed the midfield.Just how far can he go and where does he rank among the global elite?

Mac Allister is another who had an incredible World Cup.

Well, you say that I've already talk about him.

And it does not surprise me to read that he is already coveted by other teams.

He is young and intelligent. With great ball handling and he knows how to find spaces very well in a football where there are fewer and fewer spaces.

He will continue to grow with the competition. He already showed with that what he is made of.

Lionel Scaloni has done such an amazing job at such a young age - should he stay with Argentina or make a move to manage one of the biggest clubs in Europe? Can he be a success at somewhere like Barcelona, Real Madrid or in England? Where would be the right fit?

I hope he stays in Argentina. He has done an impressive job and has a relationship with the players that is remarkable.

And beyond his closeness to them, he knows how to keep his distance in order to be a tactical leader and plan matches very well.

He has won a World Cup, right? How many technical directors can say the same?

He can direct wherever he wants, and I hope he continues in Argentina together with his coaching staff, which is the best.

It’s widely said that Kylian Mbappe is now the best player in the world. But what does he have to do to even get close to Messi in terms of actual ability?

What to say about Kylian? He has scored three goals in a World Cup Final and has converted the penalty in the decisive instance.

And he has had a great World Cup too. But today Leo has the sceptre.

Mbappe's only 23 years old and is already world champion and runner up.

Surely he will go for more because he is a very talented and very competitive player.

Who were the biggest disappointments of the tournament, player or teams, and why?

If we measure it by expectations, perhaps Germany and Spain could not rise to the occasion.

Perhaps due to different circumstances. Germany is always a power and will surely begin a period of change. As happened to us and to Brazil previously.

Spain, beyond elimination, laid the foundations for the future. They went to the World Cup with a very young and very talented team.

They will surely capitalize this experience and will be a fearsome rival in the near future.

And who stood out and impressed you, and why?

I think Argentina was the best team. They had best young player, the best player and the best goalkeeper.

It was seen in each game that they played, not only the desire to win, but to do it with the best weapons.

Then I choose Morocco. Because they knew how to play and had a very competitive and talented team.

They had injury problems in their defence and perhaps could have had better luck against France.

But I liked the quality of its players and the competitive spirit.

Where do England go from here? Did they underperform, and would they be better with a different manager? If so, what do they need?

It is what I said before, that in a World Cup there are matches that are defined by details.

I liked a lot against France, in several passages England clearly surpassed them.

And they had the chance to tie it with a penalty that went over the bar.

Does the look change then? Not for me. They’re a great team full of young talent who will learn from what happened.

It's just matter of continuing to grow.

You’ve seen plenty of Casemiro close up, and played with Rodri. People are claiming Declan Rice has shown he is as good as, or even better than them as the best CDM in the world. What are your thoughts on that?

Rice is among the great midfielders. That's clear to me.

He has great ball control, is combative and has a great pass and header.

Is very complete. Surely he will bring a lot of joy to England.

And what of Spain - has the game moved on from playing possession football and not having an out and out goalscorer? How far are they away from being able to compete for honours?

I said it before, Spain already have the foundations to end up being a powerful selection.

Busquets, one of the best for a long time in his position, has already said that he will no longer play for the national team.

But they have Rodri, Gavi, Pedri, Ferrán, Laporte, Ansu Fati, all very young, just to name a few.

In this sense Spain has an advantage over other teams.

At such a young age they have already played a World Cup.

Surely we will soon see some great forwards who will appear and help Spain to have greater offensive power, which is perhaps what they lacked in this tournament.

La Liga is an inexhaustible pool of great players.