With the world’s best player and football’s most entertaining coach among their ranks, there will be few teams in South Africa with the same box office pull of Argentina.
The two-time winners may have stuttered to World Cup qualification, but Diego Maradona’s eventful press conferences and Lionel Messi’s bamboozling trickery in La Liga since then have ensured that Argentina’s uninspiring form is all but forgotten.
And one look at Maradona’s bounty of attacking options explains their position as fourth favourites. For while Messi has been the man commanding the most press attention, he’s not the only Argentinian forward who has found the route to goal easier than most. Along with Messi’s 34 league goals, Gonzalo Higuain is just behind him on 27 in the same division, Carlos Tevez has notched on 23 occasions in the Premier League, and Diego Milito has 22 league goals for Serie A champions Inter Milan.
But while goalscoring should not be an issue, one problem lies in their manager’s indecisiveness. He has used no less than 107 players in his 18 months in charge, and while many of those call-ups have been in what were effectively B games, with his European-based players unavailable for selection, it still represents a startling lack of stability.
So it was somewhat inevitable that his 30-man provisional squad had some curious omissions. While all the main offensive heavyweights are present, three players who would normally provide invaluable defensive cover to a top-heavy starting XI – Fernando Gago, Javier Zanetti and Esteban Cambiasso – have been left out.
Instead, Maradona feels that ditching traditional full backs and opting for four recognised centre halves – protected only by Javier Mascherano – will do the trick, allowing his front five to get on with the task of hurting the opposition. It’s a unique set up that is unlikely to be replicated by many in South Africa, and its originality might just work to gain an early advantage over their group rivals.
So they should certainly qualify as Group B winners, with Nigeria, Greece and South Korea far from daunting opponents. How they do after that will depend on Maradona’s ability to adapt his approach – a gung-ho mentality against an organised and savvy unit such as potential quarter-final opponents Germany could see them come apart.