Predicting Argentina's 2018 World Cup Squad
It was a long, tough tournament for Argentina. But the Albiceleste never stopped battling, despite key injuries to Angel Di Maria and Sergio Aguero, and returned to Buenos Aires with their heads held high after falling to a heart-breaking extra-time defeat to Germany. The nation may have missed out on the World Cup, but reaching a final after 24 years of trying was no mean achievement.
Still, the world of football never stands still. It may feel like a lifetime away right now, but in just a few short years Russia 2018 will be hurtling around the corner for Lionel Messi and his team-mates.
But will Messi still be there to lead his team into the next finals? And who of the 22 men who accompanied La Pulga to Brazil will make the plane four years from now?
Gazing into the crystal ball, a mixture of established stars from 2014 and the next generation of exciting talent are combined to create a possible 23-man squad to take to Russia for the next tournament.
Sergio Romero may not have been everybody's first choice before the World Cup kicked off, but the Monaco man certainly silenced a few doubters in Brazil. Just four goals in seven matches conceded was an excellent achievement for the giant goalkeeper, who capped his display with two crucial penalty saves to down the Netherlands.
At just 27, Romero should have at least one more World Cup to play, after making his debut in the competition at South Africa. The undisputed first choice for the last four years has every chance of keeping his place long enough to feature in Russia.
His fellow shot-stoppers are a little less clear. Mariano Andujar and Agustin Orion will be well into their 30s by 2018, making another World Cup more unlikely. That would also seem to rule out Manchester City's Willy Caballero, who would be 36 when the tournament kicks off.
Lanus star Agustin Marchesin is highly rated as one of Argentina's premier goalkeeping talents. But watch out as well for a young Geronimo Rulli. At 22, the kid already holds the Estudiantes record for the longest time unbeaten and is a brilliant shot-stopper.
The defence was a pleasant surprise throughout the World Cup campaign, with fears abounding over fragility and weakness in that most crucial of positions. Much of that power from the back comes from the familiarity found within the Argentina unit, who have been playing together for years from the youth teams onwards.
Out of the men who went to Brazil, Ezequiel Garay, Pablo Zabaleta and Marcos Rojo appear certain at this stage to maintain their team ahead of a hypothetical 2018 tilt at the title. Hugo Campagnaro, Jose Basanta and Martin Demichelis, meanwhile, are most likely too old to think four years ahead from now.
That leaves Federico Fernandez. At 25 he is certainly in the running for a second World Cup, but his reputation took a serious hit following a series of disappointing performances. The likes of Nicolas Otamendi, Federico Fazio, Lisandro Lopez and Mateo Musacchio are all valid alternatives to the Napoli man.
Out wide, meanwhile, Catania's Gino Peruzzi was unlucky to miss out and will surely be breathing down Zabaleta's neck in years to come. Bordeaux's Lucas Orban is an option on the left, as are Santiago Vergini and Cristian Ansaldi.
Javier Mascherano will be 34 years old when the next World Cup reaches its climax in Russia. But even at that advanced age, it would take a brave man indeed to bet against the hero of Argentina's 2014 campaign reaching a third tournament at the heart of his country's midfield.
Around the Barcelona star, several names could be changing. Angel Di Maria should still be around, while Fernando Gago's presence will depend on the Boca Juniors rediscovering his passing ability and avoiding the injuries that have interrupted his progress over the last few years.
The likes of Ricky Alvarez, Lucas Biglia and Enzo Perez would also have a shot at making the cut, although a lot depends on how their careers pan out over the intervening four years.
In terms of new blood, there is a lot for Argentina to look forward to. Erik Lamela missed out on a place but should be one of the best creative midfielders in world football, and Javier Pastore will also be keen to make up for his omission in 2014. Likewise Ever Banega, who was surprisingly left out of the final 23 this time around.
Young Argentine-based duo Matias Kranevitter and Lucas Romero will challenge if their development at River Plate and Velez Sarsfield continues, while new Manchester City arrival Bruno Zuculini and Boca starlet Luciano Acosta are more unknown quantities.
The trio lining up for Argentina at Russia 2018 could have a similar look to their first-choice attack in Brazil. Lionel Messi (31) and 30-year-olds Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain will still be around and hopefully banging in goals when the next World Cup arrives.
Behind them, Mauro Icardi appears the best placed of all Argentina's young forward talent to take the step up and join the established order. Angel Correa's progress at Atletico Madrid, where he will move from San Lorenzo, is another interesting development for Albiceleste fans, and the 19-year-old forward is a great talent for the future.
Racing Club's Luciano Vietto, Newell's Old Boys teenager Ezequiel Ponce and Diego Simeone's son, young Giovanni, all have the chance to develop into top-class strikers between Brazil and Russia to make their case for selection.
Carlos Tevez? While the possible departure of Sabella would leave a window open for the Juventus man to return, at 34 it is hard to see him featuring in Russia.
Argentina coaches tend to have a short shelf life. Since Carlos Bilardo completed his second World Cup campaign with a final defeat against Germany in 1990, six different coaches have taken the Albiceleste to six tournaments, with a total of eight men sitting on the bench in the intervening 24 years.
For the moment, Alejandro Sabella's future at the helm remains unknown. Just days before the final his fate appeared to be clear: Agent Eugenio Lopez, as reported by Soccerway, told the press that whatever the result on Sunday against Germany, Pachorra would be stepping down. The coach, however, has remained tight-lipped on the subject.
Should he decide to step down, former Barcelona coach Gerardo Martino would be the hot favourite to take over. Atletico Madrid's Diego Simeone, meanwhile, has long been slated as a future Argentina boss, although it is hard to see him moving away at such a successful moment in club football to take on his home nation.
Possible Squad for 2018 World Cup
Sergio Romero, Agustin Marchesin, Geronimo Rulli.
Pablo Zabaleta, Gino Peruzzi, Nicolas Otamendi, Ezequiel Garay, Lisandro Lopez, Lucas Orban, Marcos Rojo.
Javier Mascherano, Lucas Biglia, Lucas Romero, Bruno Zuculini, Fernando Gago, Javier Pastore, Erik Lamela, Angel Di Maria.
Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain, Mauro Icardi, Angel Correa.