Argentina face another challenge as they bid to reach the 2022 World Cup final with a date booked against Croatia in the last four.
Lionel Messi and Co. sealed a dramatic penalty shootout win over the Netherlands in the previous round to keep the PSG superstar on course for a fairytale in Qatar.
Messi’s goals and crucial performances have been main story for Lionel Scaloni’s team in the Middle East but his teammates are beginning to step up at the crucial time.
Benfica star Enzo Fernandez has caught the eye but the lesser-known name of Alexis Mac Allister has grabbed his chance for cult status.
Here’s what to know about the 23-year-old emerging star:
MORE: World Cup bracket 2022: Live updated FIFA knockout stages
Where is Alexis Mac Allister from?
Mac Allister was born in the Argentinian city of Santa Rosa in 1998 before moving to Buenos Aires as a teenager to develop his footballing career.
His rise to starting status with Argentina has triggered a tongue-in-cheek look into his family background based on his Celtic surname.
The links to Ireland and Scotland stem from ancestors hailing from Fife in Eastern Scotland and Dublin, stretching back to the 1800s.
Information on the move from Fife to Argentina is scarce, but reports from the Irish Times, tie the family links to Finglas in Co. Dublin, with the reasons for migration connected to Argentina’s farming jobs and Catholic roots.
Alexis Mac Allister’s clubs and playing career
Mac Allister emerged through the Argentinos Junior youth team ranks, following the example of his two older brothers, before making his senior debut for the Buenos Aires-based club in 2016.
He played a key role in their promotion from the Argentinian second tier into the Argentine Primera Division in his debut campaign in 2016/17, with three league goals from 23 appearances.
After one season in the top-flight, Mac Allister began to attract attention, with former Brighton boss Graham Potter confirming he was tracking Mac Allister for months ahead of the club securing a £6.8m ($8.4m) deal in January 2019.
As part of the agreement, Mac Allister stayed on loan at Argentinos Juniors for the remainder of the 2018/19 campaign, but he could not prevent them from being relegated.
Brighton allowed him to stay in Argentina at the start of 2019/20, switching on loan to join his brother Kevin at Boca Juniors, with the club forced into a rethink due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
He eventually joined Brighton for the second half of the campaign and made nine Premier League appearances.
Brighton’s Alexis Mac Allister on playing with Lionel Messi 🇦🇷pic.twitter.com/0T12cS4evy
— Sky Sports Football (@SkyFootball) December 8, 2022
That was enough to persuade Potter over his adaptation to English football, as he made 54 top-flight appearances across 2020/21 and 2021/22, scoring six goals.
Despite the change of management at Brighton, as Potter moved on to Chelsea, with five Premier League goals already to his name in 2022/23, including taking over penalty duties on the South Coast.
Alexis Mac Allister’s family and football connections
Alongside his brothers (Kevin and Francis) both playing professionally in Argentina, his father, Carlos Mac Allister, is one of the most recognisable names in Argentinian sport.
Mac Allister Snr enjoyed a long career with Argentinos Juniors and Boca Juniors, before retiring in 1999 and establishing the Mac Allister Sports Club shortly after.
Alexis Mac Allister’s dad Carlos looks like he made a surprising loan move to Boca Juniors after playing 450 games for Hibs. pic.twitter.com/WryDB2zHSJ
— Jack Pitt-Brooke (@JackPittBrooke) October 11, 2022
The club played a key role in training young footballers in the area, who went on to join professional clubs, and helped to move Alexis’ father into a political role, as Secretary of Sports, under former President Mauricio Macri from 2015 to 2018.
Alexis Mac Allister at Qatar 2022
Mac Allister has emerged as a key player in Argentina’s quest to win the World Cup, with some impressive stats as the link between Scaloni’s midfield and attack.
He was part of sweeping changes made by Scaloni following the shock opening 2-1 defeat to Saudi Arabia, with starts against Mexico and Poland, alongside his first international against the latter.
Alexis Mac Allister es un fenómeno. pic.twitter.com/B9vLz7YLf4
— Ataque Futbolero (@AtaqueFutbolero) December 9, 2022
Despite Scaloni switching between systems in the knockout stages, Mac Allister has remained in the starting team as a midfield runner to support Messi.
He was expected to be Scaloni’s sixth penalty taker in the quarterfinal shootout win over the Netherlands, after powering through 120 minutes, and that could be key against Croatia.
Alexis Mac Allister transfer rumours
Mac Allister’s rise to prominence at the World Cup has built on his status as a key Premier League star for Brighton in the last 18 months.
The Seagulls extended his contract at the AMEX Stadium ahead of the World Cup — potentially to pre-empt transfer interest in him — with his current deal running until 2025.
His performances in Qatar have increased his potential valuation to around £50m ($61.2m), and Brighton have a reputation for selling players that have ‘outgrown’ the club.
Reports from BeSoccer claim Brighton are preparing for an increase in speculation in the coming months, but a January move is very unlikely given his importance to Roberto De Zerbi’s team.