Having covered South American side Brazil recently on this World Cup look ahead, it’s now time to check in with their continental neighbours Argentina. The home nation of some of the finest footballers of the past few decades, La Albiceleste haven’t managed to lift the golden trophy since their infamous 1986 triumph in Mexico. That tournament of course was the home of the “Hand of God” incident when Diego Maradona handled the ball into England’s net to send the Three Lions home and lead the Argentinians on to their second title in three tournaments.
Maradona – one of the aforementioned superb players – also scored a goal voted “Goal of the Century” in that exact same game, but since then the nation has struggled to replicate their dominant success of the late 70’s and 80’s. Indeed, being a nation so decorated in terms of international honours (21 competitive titles including 14 Copa Americas) they haven’t managed to earn any titles since their Olympic Gold Medal campaign in Beijing in 2008. That in itself was their second Gold in a row after first achieving the feat in Athens, Greece in 2004.
One factor in modern times is the presence of arguably the finest footballer in the world today, Lionel Messi. The 30-year-old is a truly wonderful athlete, of course – and is instrumental in his Barcelona side which is arguably among the best in the world today. For one reason or another, however, Messi hasn’t quite seemed able to muster a similar influence on the international stage, coming closest in the last World Cup when they finished runners-up to a thoroughly efficient German side.
Coached by former Chile and Sevilla boss Jorge Sampaoli, it could be argued that the boss’ biggest headache ahead of the tournament will be just how he approaches games on the attacking front. With a wealth of talent to choose from up front, Sampaoli needs to get his selection right if he is to avoid the inevitable unfortunate occurrence of taking blame for poor selection should his side fail to perform. Defensively, after all, Argentina seem to be as strong as any other. With Man Utd deputy Sergio Romero keeping a grip on the number 1 jersey despite a lack of domestic playing time, they still have a great custodian between the sticks.
Just across the city from Romero, Nicolas Otamendi could be looking to build on his title-winning campaign with Man City in Russia. He seems a sure bet to be one of the first names on the team sheet really, as Sampaoli seems to be a real fan. Federico Fazio of Roma looks to be a good partner for Otamendi in the center of defence too, so that seems to have the back line largely covered – especially if another Manchester-based player, Marcos Rojo, can re-discover his form before the competition kicks off in June.
With the likes of Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain to choose from up front alongside the likes of Paulo Dybala and Mauro Icardi, the front line seems sure to be the toughest area of the pitch to adequately select. That’s not from a lack of quality, mind you – but rather an abundance of it. With someone like Angel Di Maria providing the service from a forward position on the left and Ever Banega and/or Lucas Biglia acting as the hub in the middle, Argentina will prove a potent threat to any team in the tournament, and it could ultimately boil down to whether or not they can simply get themselves up for the occasion.
If Sampaoli is capable of getting that from his players, it would be tough to bet against them in any match, including some of the other tournament favourites.
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