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The story behind Thiago Almada: Argentina’s last man for Qatar 2022

On November 11th, when Argentina’s head coach, Lionel Scaloni, announced the 26-man squad that would make the trip to Qatar, one name was missing and caught the attention of many in the South American Country: Thiago Almada. The youngster (21) was disappointed but understood that he hadn’t been a regular in the World Cup qualifying process, as he told the Argentinian channel, TyC Sports.

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This file photo taken on September 23, 2022 shows Argentina's midfielder Thiago Almada kicking the ball during the international friendly match between Honduras and Argentina at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida
Thiago Almada / eric espada / getty images north america / afp

Almada, an offensive midfielder born in Ciudadela just outside of Buenos Aires, was recently bought by MLS side, Atlanta United for $16 million US Dollars, a new record for Major League Soccer. Thiago started out at Velez Sarsfield, where he made his professional debut in August 2018, when he was just 16 years old. He was transferred to Atlanta United in March 2022 and made his official debut for the club in an MLS match against new expansion club Charlotte FC.

The story behind Thiago Almada: Argentina’s last man for Qatar 2022.
Thiago Almada / juan mabromata / pool / afp

He had an amazing first season after he led the team in assists (12) and finished tied in third place on the team in goals scored (6). His great outings in the 2022 season earned him a spot in MLS’ team of the week five times and Goal of the Week twice. But his biggest accomplishment of the season came a bit less than a month ago, when the MLS named Almada as 2022 MLS Newcomer of the Year, which recognized the year’s most impactful new MLS player with prior professional experience.

Thiago’s excellent skills and great season performance, not only this past year, but since he was in Velez, has caught the attention of big clubs in Europe, but none of them were as aggressive as Atlanta United. This MLS side has experience buying South American players and then selling them for big money to Europe.

Such is the case of Miguel Almiron, who is a Paraguayan offensive midfielder who was taking his first professional steps in Argentinian side, Lanus, when Atlanta United called to his door and acquired him for a little over $8 million dollars in 2017. He made an immediate impact for the MLS side and Atlanta were crowned MLS Cup Champions in the 2017-18 season. Almiron’s amazing play echoed in England and Premier League side Newcastle United bought him in 2019 for around $26 million US Dollars.

This is Atlanta’s plan with Thiago Almada, however, they were disappointed when Scaloni didn’t include Almada in the 26-man squad for the World Cup, as they knew it would have been an amazing chance for Thiago to show himself to the world. Nico Gonzalez and Joaquin Correa had been called up in the initial 26-man list, however, after a few training sessions, it was rumored that they weren’t at 100% and may be called down.

The options for Scaloni were vast, as he had Angel Correa, Gio Simeone and Alejandro Garnacho at top level, this last player has never received a top national team call up from Argentina but has been getting a lot of minted by Man United coach, Erik Ten Hag, and was appointed by many in Argentina to complete the World Cup list.

The first news from the Argentinian camp came on November 15th, when they announced that Nicolas Gonzalez was indeed injured and would have to fly back home to Argentina. Gonzalez’s place was taken by Atletico de Madrid striker, Angel Correa, who many wanted on the list from the beginning. A day later, on November 16th, the Argentinians announced that Joaquin Correa was also injured, and they would choose his replacement the day after.

The tension rose in Argentina, as nobody was certain as to who Scaloni would call up to replace Nico, because Almada, Simeone and Garnacho were all at an amazing level, however, Almada had a bit of a lead because he was the only one who had been called to represent Argentina, both Simeone and Garnacho have never received a call-up from the Argentinian squad.

It was on Thursday, November 17th, when Scaloni confirmed to the Argentinian media that his decision had been made and it would be Thiago Almada who would accompany Angel Correa on the flight to Qatar to complete the team.

The call-up came as a surprise for young Thiago, as he was in Argentina with his family enjoying the World Cup break. Almada’s father confirmed he was already in Qatar, as Thiago had paid for him to go to the World Cup, so he received Thiago’s news already in World Cup land. He told TyC Sports that Thiago couldn’t even talk since he was crying, emotional about the sudden call-up.

Both Thiago Almada and Angel Correa were in Argentina, so they flew to Qatar together. When they reached the airport, there was a massive number of Argentinian fans who were on their way to the World Cup and recognized them. The fans accompanied the two players through the airport with chants, supporting them and asking them to bring the World Cup to Argentina, a situation that hasn’t happened since Mexico 1986, when Maradona reached eternal glory at the Azteca Stadium.

Almada and Correa arrived in Qatar on November 19th and are ready to represent their country after a week of sadness, after being initially left off the 26-man list. Both players come as great alternatives for coach Scaloni if any of the games turn for worse. Thiago was Atlanta’s assist leader and was praised by Lio Messi a couple of months back, when Messi mentioned that he saw great potential in Thiago and that he should be called up on a regular basis.

It’s been a hectic couple of months for Thiago, as he made a very positive impact in Atlanta, got called up to the Argentinian team to play some friendlies in September, but then got left out of the final squad for Qatar, only to be notified a week later that he’ll indeed represent his country in the World Cup.

It’s to be seen if Thiago can make a real impact in the Argentinian squad, but his story is definitely one to tell and everyone will keep an eye on his development during the tournament.

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