Saturday May 17 2014

Argentina: Now or never for the genius of Lionel Messi

Argentina, the 1986 world champions, are rated as one of the favourites

Argentina, the 1986 world champions, are rated as one of the favourites for the 2014 World Cup that kicks off on June 12 in Brazil. Courtesy photo 

By Edward Ssekalo

Alejandro Sabella, Argentina head coach since 2011 would not have a front row seat reserved for him at a conference of football’s elite managers, let’s be clear about that.
But there’s no question he has brought to the Argentine team the kind of order that Maradona treated like a luxury.

How they play: For eons Argentina has played a fluid passing game, where, many times to their peril, attack has been the only way.
Skillful expression should be taken for granted in a team with the talent and tradition of Argentina, and now Sabella’s most positive influence can be read in his nurturing a respectable level of defensive solidity to add some substance to the style.

Strengths: Argentina possesses a team whose strength could easily be described in just the two words: Lionel Messi. But in the season going into the World Cup, see who else Argentina have lined up: Sergio Aguero, Angel Di Maria, Gonzalo Higuain. That’s a bankable promise for goals.

Weaknesses: The Argentines posted the second best defensive record in South American qualifying but La Albicelestes backline will be tested in Group F by the directness of Bosnia-Hercegovina and a reinvigorated Nigeria.
Tougher tests await in the knockout stages, where Argentina’s suspect goalkeeping department might get stretched even more. And a team often guilty of peaking early must prove this time it has the appetite for a marathon.

Star Man: Surely Brazil is the stage for Lionel Messi to give the performance the world has waited for nearly a decade now. Argentina’s best player turns 27 in June, and even he must recognise there might not be a better opportunity to make his mark.

One to watch: Sergio Aguero is not an unknown quantity, as players who feature in the ‘one to watch’ category usually are, but the quick-footed striker is the player most likely to make the difference as Argentina’s opponents set out to frustrate Messi.

Prospects: With the defence much improved and the attacking options better than they had four years ago, if Lionel Messi, as creator or goal scorer, dominates this year’s football showpiece La Albicelestes will be world champions in July.

Understanding Argentina
How they qualified: Finished top of South American qualifying group
World Cup Appearances: 15
World Cup Record: 1930 - Runners-up; 1934 - First round; 1958 - First round; 1962 - First round; 1966 - Quarter-finals; 1974 - Second group stage; 1978 - Winners; 1982 - Second group stage; 1986 - Winners, 1990 - Runners-up, 1994 - Second round, 1998 - Quarter-finals, 2002 - First round, 2006 - Quarter-finals; 2010 - Quarter finals
Overall Record: P70, W37, D13, L20
Best Performance: Winners in 1978 and 1986
World Cup High: A Diego Maradona-inspired team clinching Argentina’s second World Cup crown at Mexico ‘86
World Cup Low: Diego Maradona getting sent home in disgrace from the USA ‘94 World Cup for his use of ephedrine, a stimulant
World Cup Legend: Diego Maradona led the country to successive World Cup finals and scored arguably the competition’s greatest goal against England at Mexico ‘86
Probable Line-up: Sergio Romero, Pablo Zabaleta, Ezequiel Garay, Federico Fernandez, Marcos Rojo, Javier Mascherano, Fernando Gago, Lionel Messi (captain), Sergio Aguero, Angel Di Maria, Gonzalo Higuain
FIFA Ranking: 3
Coach: Alejandro Sabella