By Paolo Serpe
Group F: Argentina, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iran, Nigeria
Two-time champions Argentina should be looking ahead to this summer’s World Cup with excitement and anticipation after finishing top of the group in South American qualifying.
Besides the clear advantage they will have playing in neighbouring Brazil, this generation of Argentinean players, many of whom were part of the 2005 and 2007 FIFA U-20 World Cup winning sides, come into the tournament in the prime of their careers.
The like of Lionel Messi, Sergio Agüero, Gonzalo Higuaín, Ángel di María and Fernando Gago are all in their mid-twenties and at the height of their footballing abilities. Not to mention the fantastic Carlos Tevez, who seems to have lost his chance to feature at the World Cup because of disagreements with the coach.
Messi is clearly the main man in Alejandro Sabella’s squad. Arguably the greatest player of all time, he has been slowed down this season by injuries and although his goal-scoring record has still been incredible throughout all competitions, with 36 goals in 37 appearances, he hasn’t looked like his usual self at times.
Sabella has created an attacking system that isn’t Messi-dependent, which will be the key to a successful tournament for Argentina; with a long list of attacking talent to look to, Messi should be able to fill the role of star player, not savior.
Playing with an attacking 4-3-3 formation, Argentina’s control of the midfield will be key to their success. Éver Banega and Fernando Gago have both struggled recently and returned home to the Argentine Primera División to find their form and regular playing time. While they are more defensive-minded players, Javier Mascherano will be the primary ball winner in the centre, meaning Banega and Gago will need to be at their best to help supply the forward line.
Brendan Dunlop is unsure if Banega will be able to make an impact, or even make the squad for that matter.
“I think he’s got a lot to prove,” Dunlop said. “He might lose his spot if they struggle early. I think that’s part of the reason he’s not playing in Europe anymore; he was certainly rated and had a lot of potential but never lived up to it at Valencia.”
Dunlop also sees Sabella as a major factor. Looking at what Argentina was able to accomplish in 2010 with the legendary Diego Maradona in charge. The tactically-inept Maradona took his team to the quarter-finals before they were crushed 4-0 by Germany. With Sabella in charge this talented squad should be able to play to its potential and reach the semi-finals, according to Dunlop.
Reed thinks this may be the tournament Argentina can put it all together and lift the trophy again, but sees their suspect defence as their potential downfall.