Argentina is the lowest-ranked team in the World Cup and will need to play well and hope for some luck to get out of the group stages. But this tournament holds a bigger purpose. In a year in which the country's domestic scene is taking its first steps toward becoming fully professionalized, Argentina's first appearance in the World Cup since 2007 will see it propelled into the national consciousness.
How they got here
In 2007, Argentina crashed out without a win. But the team brought an end to its exile after booking an intercontinental playoff against Panama, having finished third in the 2018 Copa America Femenina. Argentina eased past Panama 5-1 on aggregate, winning 4-0 in Buenos Aires and then drawing away 1-1, which cued scenes of blue and white pandemonium.
The Argentines have a squad featuring players with experience in Spain's Primera Division (in 2007 all of the squad played in Argentina) and will draw on this in France. "My game has improved a lot after going overseas," said fullback Agustina Barroso, who plays at Madrid CFF. They will also look to harness Soie James' local knowledge as she now plays for the dominant Lyon, while Belen Potassa featured for Argentina in the 2007 World Cup.
But this will be an uphill battle for them. The majority of the team is still semi-professional and its recent tale of the tape suggests it will struggle to mix it with those teams that aspire of progressing past the group stage. The Argentines Cup of Nations campaign at the start of the year saw them play South Korea, New Zealand and Australia. They conceded 10 goals over the three matches -- and scored none.
Money stat: 85
A full 85 years after the men went professional, Argentine club San Lorenzo de Almagro became the first to offer professional contracts to women in March. Among the 15 signed was Macarena Sanchez, who brought the huge disparity in wages to light when she pursued legal action against her former side UAI Urquiza and the Argentinian FA. She played there for seven years and had to rely on a part-time job in the club and a miserly monthly stipend.
It seems Argentine women's football is finally achieving some stability after a spell between June 2015 and August 2017, where they did not play a single international match and were without a manager.
Players to Watch
Keep an eye on Lyon's Soie James, but Argentina's star player is undoubtedly creative midfielder Estefanía Banini. She has been a galvanizing force for Argentine football during their recent troubled times. Wearing the famous No. 10 shirt, she follows in the footsteps of some greats from the men's game, but in her pre-tournament interviews, she comes across as level-headed and is already exploring her post-playing career options. She also brings a variety of overseas experience, having turned out for Colo Colo in Chile, Washington Spirit and Valencia.
Argentina's record against its fellow Group D opponents will not give the squad cause for optimism. Argentina has played England once back in 2007, where it lost 6-1, and in its four meetings with Japan, Argentina has scored no goals and conceded 12. The team's self-imposed "World Cup final" will come against Scotland in Round 3. The likelihood is Argentina will already be 0-0-2 by that stage, but with nothing on the line, it might motivate them to pull off a major upset.
"We're so used to fighting against discrimination, inequality and a lack of resources that we've become stronger for it. We're more united and battle-hardened, and that drives us on when we come up against top sides." -- Estefanía Banini
Argentina has never managed to get out of the group stage, and if it somehow secures a spot in the knockout stages, it will be a huge surprise. This team is a heavy underdog and needs everything it can muster to make it past Group D.