Argentina's Julian Alvarez during training with teammates in Doha. (Reuters)
They say the first goal in any game is the most important – but what about the second?
For Argentina, Qatar 2022 has been a tournament where that second goal has been crucial. Against Saudi Arabia it went to the underdogs, sparking a famous comeback; in victories over Poland and Australia, at has come courtesy of Julian Alvarez, sealing essential wins.
“I tried to prepare myself physically, mentally for when the moment comes to me, to take advantage of it and help my teammates as much as possible,” Alvarez told FIFA, talking of how he had to settle for a seat on the bench in Lionel Scaloni’s first two team selections.
Appearing as a substitute against Saudi Arabia and Mexico, ‘La Arana’ (The Spider) was not concerned about having to wait for a starting position alongside fellow stars of the show Lionel Messi and Alexis Mac Allister.
“I’m happy,” he said. “I always say that I try to train to the maximum to be at 100 per cent, to be available to the coach and to help my teammates whenever it is my turn.
“I had been doing that for a while at my club, obviously thinking about the World Cup and of course the national team. (Against Poland and Australia) I have had more minutes; I went from less to more, as I had to do at River Plate and now Manchester City.
“Now it’s the same in the national team too. In such an important tournament with few games, you have to be efficient as a team.”
Alvarez has had a dream start to his career as a professional footballer. Moving from River Plate’s junior side to the senior set-up, the then 18-year-old appeared in the 2018 Copa Libertadores decider, defeating rivals Boca Juniors.
The following year, Alvarez netted in a 3-0 win over Central Cordoba in the Copa Argentina 2019 final. These formative years are what have shaped Argentina’s in-form forward, and Alvarez says he owes his childhood club for his new-found fame.
“I am grateful to the club because, since I arrived aged 16, they have helped me a lot,” he said. “Every coach and the people who surround the club instilled in me many values; they have made me grow as a person, as a player and well, and a large part of being here I owe to River Plate.
“They continue to believe, to trust, to support. We feel a lot of love and we are going to leave everything on the field to give them (Argentina fans) a lot of happiness.”
The River alumni now plays his club football under Pep Guardiola, who had words of encouragement for the Argentina side when Alvarez first joined the squad.
“It was one of the first days I got to Manchester and the Portuguese players, Rodri, and Pep were talking about the World Cup and possible [winning] candidates,” he said. “They talked about Portugal, other European teams, and Brazil.
“With Pep, because I’d just arrived, I didn’t say anything – I didn’t talk much – but he pointed out to me that Argentina had a good team.”
To match Guardiola’s predictions, Alvarez and Argentina must overcome Netherlands, and Alvarez is confident the Albiceleste can progress.
“We know that they have great players, that Netherlands are a great and strong team, but with our weapons and doing what we have been doing, we believe that we can have a great match to go through the semi-finals.
“Obviously the dream is always there and we always want to achieve everything, but as we always say: step by step. We know it’s a difficult game, but obviously to enter the semi-finals, to be among the four best in the world, it would be something very important for us as a group and for the country. It would give us incredible joy.”