HOW THEY GOT THERE:
Argentina made its way to South Africa in a most unusual way…well unusual for them at least. The South American giant who normally cruises to every World Cup had to win its last 2 games of the qualifiers to punch its ticket to South Africa. By beating Peru 2-1 at home and then fellow World Cup contender Uruguay 1-0 in Montevideo, Maradona and his boys clinched the 4th spot and last direct berth to South Africa. Ever since the CONCACAF adopted the everyone vs everyone format for France 98, the only question about Argentina’s road to the World Cup was if they would finish ahead of Brazil or not. Needless to say this was Argentina’s poorest qualifer, winning only 8 games while losing 6 and drawing 4, but the important thing is that they made it. Along the way the golden son Diego Maradona took over the coaching duties from Alfio Basile and made a spectacle of himself and his team. His outburst against the media after clinching the berth will go down in history.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR:
Argentina has one of the most talented and skilled teams in the world, period. For starters they have Lionel Messi, the world’s greatest player.
Few nations can boast such a rich crop of players. For this simple reason, Argentina is always considered a candidate to take home the golden trophy. Not too many teams draw so much attention as Argentina. In their first open practice in South Africa, over 3500 fans and media were in attendance to watch Maradona’s bunch. Although this time around they are not a heavy favorite to take home the hardware, they are still capable of making a deep run. It seems like every year the Argentinean league is pumping players into the top leagues of Europe.
For this reason the vast majority of players who will play in the World Cup have had their experience in the European Champions League. They are all familiar with big time soccer and will not be intimidated by any rival. The Argentinean style is based on ball control and the short passing game. The latest word from the Argentinean press speculates that Maradona will employ a 3-4-1-2 rather than the traditional 4-4-2 he had been using. In all likelihood Juan Sebastian Veron (Club Estudiantes de la Plata) and Javier Mascherano (Liverpool FC) will command the midfield and feed the deadly trio of Messi, Carlos Tevez (Manchester City) and whoever is tabbed as the 3rd forward between Gonzalo Higuain ( Real Madrid), Sergio Aguero (Atlético de Madrid), and Diego Milito (Inter). Argentina has a stable of first rate forwards and I expect all of these guys to play at one point or another.
WHO TO LOOK FOR:
Of all the stars in this star studded roster, one of them shines brightest of all. Lionel Messi is considered by most to be the best in the world. The only knock against this amazing talent is that he has not yet delivered for his national team the way he delivers for his club Barcelona on a weekly basis. Perhaps this is the time when Lionel finally silences his critics back home, who have been merciless in pointing out his hardships with the Albiceleste. Aside from Messi anyone of the mentioned forwards can give rivals headaches. Youngster Angel DiMaria could impress if given a starting spot. This fast and talented midfielder is a rising star on the world stage and might have his coming out party in South Africa if Maradona choses to play him.
THE PROS AND CONS:
The pros would be obvious to anyone reading thus far; the quality of players. The cons for this team are the head coach. Maradona is at the same time the most loved and the most controversial figure in the country. He took over a sluggish team in mid qualifiers and began his road to World Cup with a 1-6 historic drubbing at the hands of Bolivia. He had no coaching experience prior to being given the “keys to the Cadillac” and many in the Argentinean press have written off their team’s chances due to his unorthodox ways.
His questionable decisions of calling up over 100 players to the national team in his short tenure and his inability to stick with a tactical formation are just two examples of his unorthodoxy. His decision to leave out Champions League winners Esteban Cambiaso ( 2006 World Cup starter) and Javier Zanetti caused somewhat of an uproar. The only thing one can expect from “El Diego” is the unexpectable. If he cannot manage to find a way to make Messi thrive in his scheme, his tenure as coach will conclude in South Africa. One thing is for sure, Maradona is such a big name and media darling that he will probablydraw more attention that his team, which might be his way of taking the pressure of his players. Whether that is all part of his master plan or just a coincidence, it might allow the players to fly under the radar for the first time in a long time.
OUTLOOK FOR THE WORLD CUP:
The first game against Nigeria will be the biggest test. This has become somewhat of a rivalry in the past 20 years. Argentina has won 3 times (USA 94, Japan-Korean 2002, Under 20 World Cup final) and Nigeria won the 1996 Olympic Final in Atlanta. Argentina remains the heavy favorite to win Group B, which is rounded out by Greece and South Korea. The latter also poses a threat to advance with its hard working and speedy bunch, but the Greeks will in all likehood finish last. It would be considered a national disaster and disgrace if Diego’s boys did not advance. If they do advance they will also be favored against the eventual Group A rival, which could end up being an attractive Argentina-France match up.
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Written by The Gator Great