Argentina drew 0-0 with Brazil to became the second South America team to qualify for the 2022 World Cup on Tuesday, with coach Lionel Scaloni saluting his players at the end of what he called a “magnificent” year.
The point, combined with results elsewhere, means Argentina join Brazil as the only two of the 10 South American sides to guarantee their place in Qatar with between four and five games still remaining.
The feat came four months after Scaloni led Argentina to the Copa America, their first major trophy in 28 years.
“This was a magnificent year,” the former Lazio, Deportivo La Coruna and West Ham player said. “Winning the Copa, qualifying for the World Cup unbeaten. It was a dream.”
Scaloni had never been a head coach when he was appointed in 2018 but he has turned Argentina into a team that can look ahead to Qatar with optimism.
Lionel Messi at last appears to be enjoying his international football after years of ups and downs in a blue and white shirt and the midfield, anchored by the increasingly influential Rodrigo De Paul, is settled and solid.
Most noticeably, Scaloni has shored up a creaky defence, especially between the posts where Emiliano Martinez is the most reliable goalkeeper they have had in years.
His side have conceded just six goals in their 13 qualifiers, only two more than Brazil.
Tuesday night’s draw against their arch rivals was their 27th match unbeaten, a run that dates back more than two years, and came just days after they beat another fierce rival, Uruguay, 1-0 in Montevideo.
“We got four points against two very difficult rivals,” Scaloni said after an entertaining match in San Juan. “We all like to win of course but these games help a team to mature. Without a doubt, the balance is positive.”
“Having qualified so far in advance, in a really difficult qualifying section, is something we should be proud of.”