The biggest event in rugby is played in 2023: will it be the year of the Pumas?

Change the calendar World Cup fever continues. 2022 will remain forever engraved with a hot iron in the collective memory of Argentine sport. The Qatari hell forced the almanac to have a few days left to appreciate it properly. When turning the page another challenge of a global nature appears for the light blue and white: Rugby World Cup France 2023.

By global audience, attendance at stadiums, tourist flow and the millions of dollars that circulate around, in half a century the Rugby World Cup has become the third largest sports competition on the planet, behind the FIFA World Cup and the Olympic Games. It will then be the most precious event of this new year, and the Argentine national team will be there fighting. The Cougars They arrive without the Scaloneta plate, but with equal confidence where the outcome is similar.

Los Pumas, faced with an opportunity to once again stand out in FranceUAR Press

In an appointment tinged with the shadow of corruption, France won the rights to organize the world alone for the first time in its history. Although copyright was reserved in 2007, a cup that brings back the best memories to Argentines, ceded part of the locality to Wales and Scotland (six games). He was also co-organizer of the 1991 World Cup (together with the nations of the British Isles) and put five stadiums in Wales 99. That is to say that it will have been local in four of the 10 world cups. Even so, despite having been six times in the semifinals, he could never reach the top.

The Pumas will land in the World Cup with several reasons to believe that they can go far. First, they will have the impulse to Qatar still running through his veins. Second, France is a country that suits them after a record of third place in 2007, their best ever performance. The minimum objective is to overcome the first stage, accessible but laborious. Getting around the quarterfinals will be difficult but it is within the parameters of what is possible, especially considering the probable crosses. Once involved in the top four, anything can happen.

The memory of a memorable triumph: victory of the Pumas in Christchurch, over the All Blacks, last AugustGetty Images – Getty Images AsiaPac

The feasibility of this presumption rests on much more tangible components than those mentioned in the previous paragraph, although reality also indicates that, eight months and coins from September 8 and with only four games to go, the aspirations of the Argentines rest in state latent. It is a team with world-class individual talent, with a coach with extensive experience in these battles and with a proven ability to beat the best. On the other hand, it is still a team under construction, unstable, capable of reaching very high peaks one week and hitting rock bottom the next.

The arrival of the Australian coach michael cheka last year he straightened the course of the team, conflicted in the previous cycle. However, the initial promotion found a stop in the last two games of 2022, which set off some alarms. In losses to wales and scotland It became clear that Argentina is still far from being a power. Most of its players play in the main clubs of France and Englandthe strongest leagues in the world.

Los Pumas coach Michael Cheika
Los Pumas coach Michael CheikaPABLO GASPARINI – AFP

players like Marcos Kremer, Julián Montoya, Santiago Carreras, Juan Imhoff, Emiliano Boffelli and Guido Petti Pagadizábal They are figures in the protagonists of Europe. While the Pumas are growing at a slow pace, they can settle for taking a hit from time to time. It is not little, less if they manage to conjugate them in the course of 51 days, those that go from September 8 to October 28.

As has been the case since 1999, 20 teams will participate, divided into four zones of five. The first two of each will qualify for the quarterfinals. There will be nine venues, of which the Stade de France in Paris is the largest (capacity for 80,023 spectators) and will host 10 of the 48 matches, including the opening match between the home team and the All Blacks, two quarterfinals, the semifinals, the game for third place and the final. Stadium attendances are expected to surpass the previous mark of 2,600,741 set at England 2015.

A scene from the duel that the Argentine national team played against England last November, in Twickenham
A scene from the duel that the Argentine national team played against England last November, in Twickenham ADRIAN DENNIS – AFP

The Cougars they qualified directly for the World Cup after finishing Japan 2019 Top 12. The group draw held in December 2020 favored them with an accessible path. Despite not being among the top eight seeded teams, they were lucky Japanbesides the giant England. Later they joined Samoa and Chile. The premiere will be on Saturday September 9 against the English in Marseille, the second largest stadium in the competition. A superior rival, but not impossible: they already beat him at home last November. The second meeting will be 13 days later! in view of samoa (in Saint Etienne), a tough team but not going through a good moment. Chili, in his first World Cup appearance, should not represent any inconvenience. That duel is scheduled for Saturday the 30th, in Nantes, 75km from La Baule-Escoublac, Pays de la Loire, where the Argentine bunker will be installed. The finale will be against the Japanese, presumably with a place in the quarter-finals at stake regardless of how the game against England turned out. It will be on Sunday, October 8, on the same field. The Cougars are favorites, but Japan has grown ostensibly in the last eight years (victory against South Africa in 2015 and before Ireland Y Scotland in 2019), so the margin of error will be narrow.

Leaving Group D first guarantees one more day of rest and a more accessible crossing in the quarterfinals. Be first or second the Cougars will play again in Marseille and the rival will leave Group C, which is made up of Australia, Wales, Fiji, Georgia and Portugal (in order of favoritism). It will not be a process, but there is hardly a more favorable scenario to get into the top four. The four main candidates today (France, New Zealand, Ireland and South Africa) will eliminate each other in quarters.

Nicolás Sánchez is treated during the match between Los Pumas and All Blacks in Australia; The opening suffered several injuries that complicated his participation in the selected
Nicolás Sánchez is treated during the match between Los Pumas and All Blacks in Australia; The opening suffered several injuries that complicated his participation in the selectedMatt Roberts – Getty Images AsiaPac

To get to that point, the Cougars they must overcome several obstacles before the debut at the Stade Vélodrome. Cheika he solidified the defense, improved the scrum and gave the attack another flight. All based on an injection of confidence. But in several games it was difficult for them to maintain concentration for 80 minutes and they fell into indiscipline, which led to defeats. Even so, the 2022 balance was positive. The question is whether it will be enough with the four preparation games: on July 8 against New Zealand at home, on the 15th against Australia as visitors and a round-trip duel against South Africa (July 29 and August 5). The first three will be valid for the Rugby Championship 2023, with reduced format. It is not ruled out adding some more friendly in the Old Continent before the World Cup premiere.

Although from the japan world young players with potential emerged, another against the Cougars It is to have a short squad, without replacement in some positions, such as props, second lines and centers. It will be necessary to implore because the holders are not injured. Besides, Cheika He has to find the opening, a key position. Santiago Carreras He was establishing himself in the position, but in the last two games he showed that he still lacks, especially in terms of driving. The return to action of Nicholas Sanchez at his new club Brive is auspicious in that regard and offers a worthwhile alternative.

Definitely, the Cougars They are a team that has little time left to resolve various issues but with the potential to get into the conversation. After the quarterfinals, anything can happen.

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The article is in Spanish

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