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Nicolas Tagliafico interview: Argentina's World Cup script and why Lionel Messi and the rest don't want this to end

In an exclusive interview with Sky Sports, Argentina’s World Cup winner Nicolas Tagliafico shares his memories of their ‘Hollywood’ moment, who would play him in the movie, why they are still winning, and how they have brought out the best in the great Lionel Messi

Argentina's Nicolas Tagliafico
Image: Argentina's Nicolas Tagliafico achieved his dream in winning the World Cup but he is not ready to wake up just yet

It was the greatest World Cup final of them all but Nicolas Tagliafico has not watched it back in full. He has sat through the first 90 minutes but despite knowing that there is a happy ending, even he has not yet been able to face extra-time and penalties.

"It was not one for people with heart problems," he tells Sky Sports.

He is talking, of course, about Argentina's win over France. Two goals by Lionel Messi. Three by Kylian Mbappe. A lead lost, restored and lost again. That save by Emiliano Martinez. Lautaro Martinez's chance. And, finally, Gonzalo Montiel's penalty to win the World Cup.

Argentina's Gonzalo Montiel score in a penalty shootout during the World Cup final soccer match between Argentina and France at the Lusail Stadium in Lusail, Qatar, Sunday, Dec. 18, 2022. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)
Image: Gonzalo Montiel settles the 2022 World Cup final in Argentina's favour against France

"I know, for sure, I will watch it many times." But not yet.

Tagliafico had been substituted in the 121st minute. "I was exhausted from the heat and the adrenaline. I sat down and I could not get up again because I was so tired." Even in those brief moments before the penalty shootout, both teams had opportunities to win it.

"I remember watching the people on the screen. Everyone in the stadium was frozen. You could not hear a sound. And then, there was that incredible save. I could not believe it. Nor could anyone else in the stadium. And then, our chance at the end. That was so close."

Much of what followed remains a blur. But he remembers the celebrations once they returned to Argentina. "When we came back to Buenos Aires and saw the people it was incredible and I will remember it for the rest of my life," says Tagliafico.

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"You play for the ones you love. But you also feel that you are playing for your country. As the World Cup progressed, we felt like we were playing for the people. We could feel it, even from a distance. That was the extra push for us to go and win the World Cup."

Argentina's Nicolas Tagliafico celebrates with team mates after the World Cup final soccer match between Argentina and France at the Lusail Stadium in Lusail, Qatar, Sunday, Dec. 18, 2022. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
Image: Argentina's Nicolas Tagliafico celebrates with colleagues after their World Cup win

For Messi, it was the Hollywood ending. For Tagliafico, it was the script that had everything. "All the ingredients were there," he says. "Action, drama and suspense." But who would play him in the movie? "It would be a supporting role," he laughs. "I could play myself."

As with most great movies, there was always going to be public demand for a sequel. In this case, few had expected it. After all, this was a group led by Messi, now 36. The other Argentina goal in the final had been scored by Angel Di Maria, himself now 35.

And yet, what had seemed like the culmination of a dream has continued, its protagonists refusing to wake up. Argentina have not only won all eight of their matches since the World Cup, they have won them all without even conceding a goal. The dream lives on.

"If results had gone differently, if we had not won the World Cup, maybe Leo would not be here right now. But he is. Players like Leo and Angel still want to be with the team. We have this desire to stay together. That tells you everything about the union of this group."

As a result, this is threatening to become a dynasty. Argentina are already champions of South America and the world under Lionel Scaloni. The only defeat in over four years was that opening game against Saudi Arabia in Qatar. "After that, everything was perfect."

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Pep Guardiola jokes that Lionel Messi needs his own Ballon d'Or section

The greatest Argentina team of them all? "I have not seen them all but this is one of the best that I have seen. We have this incredible ability to adapt. We can play with and without the ball, pressing and defending. That clarity is what makes us such a good team."

It took time for them to find the best way to utilise the greatest player of them all, something Tagliafico freely admits. The tendency was to look to Messi to solve every problem. "At first, when this project started with Scaloni, that happened a lot," he explains.

Nicolas Tagliafico of Argentina, Lionel Messi of Argentina celebrate victory after the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Semifinal match between Argentina and Croatia at Lusail Stadium on December 13, 2022 in Al Daayen, Qatar
Image: Nicolas Tagliafico and Lionel Messi embrace after their World Cup semi-final win

"We would keep looking for Leo. Then, we realised that Leo had to be part of the team rather than doing everything. In that sense, we grew a lot. In the matches where Leo has not played, the team changes a bit. And then, when he comes back, it changes again.

"Leo is still fundamental. Of course, we look to him. But we do not do it first. We look for the right pass before we look to him. He is part of the team and we are part of him. We help each other. That is the key. By not depending on Leo, we help him to be his best too."

Tagliafico himself has established himself as a leader on and off the pitch. "I think this is my best moment." There was even a first goal for Argentina against Bolivia recently. "It was very special. It did not feel right for me to have played 50 matches without scoring."

Argentina's Nicolas Tagliafico, left, celebrates with teammate Nicolas Gonzalez after scoring his side's second goal against Bolivia during a qualifying soccer match for the FIFA World Cup 2026 at the Hernando Siles stadium in La Paz, Bolivia, Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2023. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)
Image: Nicolas Tagliafico celebrates after his first Argentina goal against Bolivia in September

There is no thought of ending his international adventure. He is having too much fun. A tenacious left-back, he is comfortable with his own game at the age of 31. His job is to bring discipline and determination in defence. "That is what I am about," he says.

"I know my shortcomings as a player but defensively I am strong. Duels, tackles, making interceptions. My game is to be focused all of the time. But I can do whatever the team needs, even if that means playing high, playing inside, playing outside. Whatever."

It is part of Argentina's secret. Everyone knows and revels in their roles. But what drives the team that has won everything? Alexis Mac Allister admitted that he could have retired happy after lifting the World Cup and Tagliafico agrees. So, what are the targets now?

Nicolas Tagliafico with his World Cup medal after Argentina's victory over France in Qatar in 2022
Image: Nicolas Tagliafico with his World Cup medal after Argentina's victory over France

"Alexis is right but the motivation now is in the detail not in the extremes," says Tagliafico. "Just enjoying the football, the little things, the little moments." Another moment could be just around the corner when they go back to the Maracana to take on Brazil.

Argentina beat them there to win the final of the Copa America in 2021 but Brazil have never lost a World Cup qualifier on home soil. That match will take place just days after Argentina host Uruguay in the Clasico del Rio de la Plata in Buenos Aires.

"They are the ones that give you the biggest buzz if you win them. They are the toughest teams to face and we get to face both of them in the same week. We think we are at a good level and we know we have nothing to prove. But that will show us the level we are at.

"We want to show who the best team in South America is. Those matches are there to show exactly that. The challenge is to sustain this over time. This is our biggest goal - to keep this streak going. We want to go for the Copa America and keep this moment going."

One wonders whether fear has been a factor in this remarkable run, that sense of jeopardy working in their favour. At every stage, from the Copa America to the World Cup, the threat of Messi walking away, bringing the curtain down on this era, has been there.

When you are living the dream, it is a powerful motivator.

"We just want to keep it going," says Tagliafico. "This is one of the best moments in our history and we do not want it to end so we are giving it our all to ensure that it doesn't. We just want to take this opportunity and run with it. To squeeze all the juice out of it."

And if they do reach another final, he would settle for something less stressful than last time. "A boring 2-0?" He laughs. "We'd take that."

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