FIFA World Cup 2014 Team Focus: Argentina: Can Messi and Co lift the ultimate prize?
Argentina are one of the contenders for this summer’s FIFA World Cup, and with the event less than a fortnight away, we assess the Albiceleste’s tactical blueprint, as well as their chances of glory, and where the battles could be won and lost. Argentina are in a relatively lighter group comprising of newcomers Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iran and Nigeria, and are expected to have a smooth passage into the knockout rounds where their mettle is expected to be tested to the hilt.
Argentina aren’t historically known for being great implementers of football tactics; their maverick style of play coupled with enigmatic, highly talented footballers makes it difficult for them to follow the book. But Alejandro Sabella is well-respected across the national quarters, and he has so far done very well to eke the best out of the talismanic Lionel Messi.
Argentina employ the much in-vogue 4-3-3 formation, and Sabella has found the perfect blend to make Messi tick but defensive frailties could be their undoing yet again. The fitness of Fernando Gago is very important to the 4-3-3; he is expected to sit besides Javier Mascherano in midfield while the four forwards express themselves. Gago’s positional sense and Mascherano’s anticipatory instincts will very much be required against top quality oppositions.
Angel di Maria’s role reversal as the freewheeling left-sided central midfielder has its merits. The norm is to expect sides doubling up (or even tripling up) on captain Messi, and this is where Di Maria could flourish as he would be up on his own all across the pitch. Plus the good form of the two favoured forwards, Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain, could be as much important.
The traditional back-four is expected to be fielded, and in Pablo Zabaleta Argentina have a world-class attacking outlet from the back. While Messi cuts back and pulls defenders with him, Zabaleta could have the entire space on his attacking flank free, and we all know how much of a havoc he could cause.
Argentina’s obvious strength is their attack, and while much rage has been caused by Carlos Tevez’s omission, still they possess the most lethal attacking combination of all the 32 teams. Leo Messi might have had an average season with Barcelona, but he would be motivated enough to carry his country, now that he dons the captain’s armband.
Angel di Maria is another of Argentina’s strengths. The flawed Real Madrid star has faced the stick more often than not, but his unconventional role could be the key to Argentina’s chances. And he is on the back of an European Cup win with his club.
Alejandro Sabella’s composed nature could be more of a boon for Argentina after the Maradona debacle in South Africa four years ago. Sabella is soft-spoken, and has a knack for keeping emotions in check unlike Maradona. He has brought the group closer together, and this provides reasons enough for his omission of a character as divisive as Tevez.
Speak of a team with two halves, and there is no other better exponent than Argentina. This has been their history, and once again the artful Argies will rest their backs on a suspect defence. Keen observers would notice that Sabella hasn’t done too much of changing and chopping, and that could’ve been one reason for Argentina’s highly disciplined defence in the qualifying stages.
But the overall picture is an epitome of gloom rather than glory with first-choice goalkeeper Sergio Romero having played only a handful games as second-choice at Monaco. His lack of playing time combined with his sufficient lack of understanding and his gaffe-prone record makes him a calamity waiting to happen in the Argentina goal.
Marcos Rojo is another of the suspects at the back. He totally contrasts the brilliance of Pablo Zabaleta on the other flank. His poor touch, lack of pace and positional deficiencies has already made heads scratch, particularly when you look at the fact that he remains undisputed in his position. Plus he is particularly poor in one-on-ones, and he would be facing a lot of those considering the players ahead of him on his flank, Di Maria and Aguero.
Argentina are expected to go far in Brazil 2014. They have always done well when the World Cup is held close to home; they won it at home in 1978 and in Mexico in 1986. And with the other challengers not as well-equipped as thought of previously, Argentina have it in their hands to return home triumphant.
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