Where are they now? Argentina’s XI from Lionel Messi’s nightmare debut

Lionel Messi of Argentina playing in friendly with Brazil, Emirates Stadium, London. September 2006. Credit: Alamy
Lionel Messi of Argentina playing in friendly with Brazil, Emirates Stadium, London. September 2006. Credit: Alamy

Lionel Messi is Argentina’s all-time most capped footballer, but the then-Barcelona youngster’s debut for his country as a second-half substitute against Hungary in August 2005 is one match he’d like to wipe from his memory.

The 18-year-old was introduced in the 64th minute by manager Jose Pekerman with Argentina 2-1 ahead in a friendly fixture at the Puskas Stadium in Budapest.

You might imagine that the talented Barca academy product would inspire the South American side to extend their lead. You’d be very wrong.

Just two minutes after his arrival, Messi was shown a straight red card – harshly – for throwing an arm in the face of a Hungary player who cynically pulled him back to prevent a counter attack.

Messi trudged off leaving us all wondering whether that was a sign of things to come for him in an Argentina shirt. But nearly 17 years on, he holds the record for the most goals scored for his country and captained the nation to 2021 Copa America glory.

We’ve taken a look at the players who featured in Argentina’s side on Messi’s forgettable debut day to see what they’re up to now.

GK: Leo Franco 

At the time of the fixture with Hungary on away soil, Franco was in the early years of a five-year stint at club level with La Liga side Atletico Madrid.

This match was one of just four appearances the now 44-year-old registered for Argentina.

He retired in 2016 at Spanish second-tier outfit Huesca; a team Franco went on to manage in La Liga at the start of the 2018-19 season – their first season in the division in the club’s history.

But in October 2018, Franco was sacked after a turbulent opening to the campaign, and he’s yet to be offered another opportunity in the managerial hot seat.

RB: Lionel Scaloni 

Similarly to Franco, Scaloni failed to establish a place in Argentina’s squad during his career, with only seven appearances to his name.

He retired in 2015 after playing for eight clubs in a 20-year career, including a loan spell at West Ham in 2006 where he helped the east Londoners reach the FA Cup final.

Scaloni is currently head coach of Argentina, and he guided his country to the 2021 Copa America title.

“Logically, it’s a great title [Copa America], especially for the people. I hope Argentines can enjoy it. I think they feel an identity with this team that never gives up,” Scaloni said after the Angel Di Maria-inspired final victory over arch-rivals Brazil.

CB: Roberto Ayala

Ayala racked up 116 Argentina appearances before he retired from international duties in 2007. During that time he captained his country a record 63 times.

Although the centre-back played for AC Milan and Napoli, his most prominent club career days came in Spain with Valencia. He spent seven years under accomplished managers like Rafael Benitez and Claudio Ranieri.

The Argentina legend was brought back to the international fold by former team-mate Scaloni in 2019 as part of his technical staff.

CB: Gabriel Heinze 

The former Manchester United and Real Madrid defender represented his country 73 times after making his debut in April 2003 in a friendly win against Libya.

Heinze’s most memorable achievement at club level, before he retired in 2014 at Newell’s Old Boys, was winning the 2006-07 Premier League title under Sir Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford.

Heinze was manager of Atlanta United in the MLS until he was sacked in July 2021 following a 212-day tenure. His treatment of the club’s star player Josef Martinez, who Heinze froze out of the team, didn’t help the 43-year-old’s cause.

It remains to be seen if Heinze will return to management.

LB: Juan Pablo Sorin 

The full-back-turned-sports-broadcaster captained Argentina in the friendly with Hungary, and he went on to lead his country the following summer in the 2006 World Cup in Germany.

Sorin is a one-time Champions League winner with Juventus and was named in the South American Team of the Year three times (1996, 2000 and 2001).

CM: Lucho Gonzalez (Pablo Zabaleta, 81)

The former Porto and Marseille midfielder appeared 45 times for Argentina and scored seven goals.

For a while, we thought he might never retire, but he eventually hung up his boots in May 2020 at the age of 40, following a five-year stay in Brazil with Athletico Paranaense. You’d imagine it won’t be long before he returns to the game in some capacity.

Zabaleta was a mainstay for the national team from 2005 until 2016. His trophy-laden stay at Manchester City earned him rightful recognition as one of the all-time great Premier League right-backs.

The 37-year-old now regularly indulges in punditry work after he retired in October 2020 following a spell at West Ham United.

CM: Lucas Bernardi

Bernardi was another player in the line-up on that afternoon in Hungary who appeared under 10 times for Argentina’s senior side.

The Rosario-born player’s best years came in his homeland with Newell’s Old Boys and he took up a role as Director of Football at the club in July 2021. He resigned in October 2021, however – a decision influenced by the election of a new club president.

Bernardi also managed Newell’s in 2016 and 2016, but his stint in the dugout was as brief as his time in the boardroom, lasting just 18 games.

AM: Andres D’Alessandro (Mario Santana, 89)

“He’s the player who most resembles me, the only one I enjoy watching,” the late, great Diego Maradona said about D’Alessandro.

The silky midfielder’s highlight of his international career was winning a gold medal at the 2004 Olympics. But he otherwise struggled to be the heir to Maradona’s throne which many tipped him to develop into.

Let’s face it, if he was as good as El Diego, he’d not have ended up playing for Harry Redknapp at Portsmouth, would he?

The 40-year-old retired in 2021, but that did not last long. He came back in January 2022 to play for Brazilian side Internacional, where he is a legend, having played over 500 games for the club.

Santana is the assistant coach of Italian side Palermo. The seven-time capped international attacker spent the majority of his playing career in Serie A.

Andres D'Alessandro playing for Portsmouth in April 2006. Credit: Alamy
Andres D'Alessandro playing for Portsmouth in April 2006. Credit: Alamy

READ: Five ‘new Maradonas’ who didn’t live up to the hype: Latorre, D’Alessandro…

AM: Maxi Rodriguez

Rodriguez netted one of his 12 international goals in Messi’s debut match, and he also played in three World Cups for Argentina in 2006, 2010 and 2014.

The 41-year-old retired at Newell’s Old Boys in 2021.

He arguably enjoyed his best playing years during a two-and-a-half-year spell with Liverpool – Rodriguez remains a Kop cult hero to this day.

It remains to be seen what life has in store for Maxi after football.

ST: Hernan Crespo

If Crespo’s current career in management is anywhere near as good as his previous career banging in goals for Europe’s elite, he won’t have done too badly.

He’s made a good start too, winning the Copa Sudamericana with Defensa y Justicia and the Campeonato Paulista with Sao Paulo in 2020 and 2021 before moving to Al-Duhail in Qatar.

He netted 35 goals for Argentina and won 16 trophies in his career, including the Premier League title in Jose Mourinho’s dominant Chelsea side of the mid-2000s.

 Credit: Alamy
Credit: Alamy

READ: Hernan Crespo was far from a Chelsea ‘flop’ – just look at these wonderstrikes

ST: Lisandro Lopez (Messi, 64)

Lopez was already an established pro by 2005, having played – and scored – dozens of times for Racing in Argentina and earned a move to Porto.

Remarkably, though, he’s still going now, still chugging up and down the football pitches of the Argentinian Primera Division with Sarmiento.

Lopez played seven times for his country but only found the target once in a friendly triumph over Russia in 2009.

It was the nightmare start to an international career for his teenage replacement Messi. Things have gone slightly more smoothly for the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner since.

READ MORE: Comparing Messi and Ronaldo’s records at major tournaments

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