World Cup 2014 Team-by-Team Guide: Argentina expects
Past tournaments: 1930, 1934, 1958, 1962, 1974, 1978, 1982, 1986, 1990, 1994, 1998, 2002,2006, 2010, 2014.
Previous Best: Winners – 1978 and 1986
How they got here: An early 1-0 loss to Venezuela and a 1-1 draw with Bolivia represented an early blip for Argentina who nevertheless strolled to qualification, coming top of the CONMEBOL standings and securing qualification and top spot with games to spare.
A total of 35 goals in 16 games makes for impressive reading, with Gonzalo Higuain and Lionel Messi firing in the majority during a campaign that included a 4-1 win over Chile, a 4-0 victory over Ecuador and a 3-0 triumph over Uruguay – three teams they could yet face at the finals.
Star man: Lionel Messi (Barcelona)
Appointed captain by Alejandro Sabella, Messi may be coming off the back of a difficult season at Barcelona, but he is in arguably his best form for the national team, having finally hit the kind of scoring heights for La Albiceleste he has so far enjoyed with the Catalans.
Second only to Luis Suarez in qualifying, Messi managed an impressive 10 goals for Argentina as part of a haul of 18 in his last 16 games with the national side.
The best dribbler in the world, Messi’s creative skills have brought goals to his teammates too with Gonzalo Higuain the main beneficiary with nine goals in qualifying. If Argentina are to upset Brazil’s World Cup party, he could be the made to do it.
Marcos Rojo (Sporting Lisbon)
In a squad featuring numerous Champions League, La Liga and Premier League title winners, Rojo is that most rarest of things at this summer’s World Cup – a relatively unknown Argentine talent.
That’s not to say he hasn’t been attracting some interest from these shores following a season in which the defender has impressed for Sporting at left back, helping the resurgent Lisbon giants to a runners-up finish.
Liverpool and Arsenal are both thought to be admirers of the 24-year-old, who can play at full back or centrally and a move to England could be on the cards should he impress here.
Team nutcase: Javier Mascherano (Barcelona)
A tough tackler and someone likely to be have been slightly irked at having to give the captain’s armband up to Messi upon Sabella’s arrival, Mascherano has been known to blow his fuse on occasion for both club and country.
It took the combined efforts of Steven Gerrard, Xabi Alonso, Peter Crouch and Rafa Benitez to send him on his way. A three-match ban and £15,000 fine followed.
Here’s a clip of Mascherano receiving his marching order for Argentina:
How far can they go?
All the way. Argentina have been gifted an easy route to the quarter-finals and that should give them more than enough game time to get everyone firing on all cylinders. In Lionel Messi and Gonzalo Higuain they have two players with an excellent track record of goals in South American qualifying and let’s not forget Sergio Aguero and Angel Di Maria.
While some have pointed to defensive concerns the reality is that Ezequiel Garay and Pablo Zabaleta both come into the tournament off the back of title-winning seasons while youngsters Federico Fernandex and Marcos Rojo have enjoyed good seasons at Napoli and Sporting Lisbon respectively.
Provided Mascherano, Gago or even Lucas Biglia mop things up in the centre of midfield, then a meeting with Brazil in the final looks a good shout.
Relive Argentina’s memorable team goal against Serbia & Montenegro from the 2006 World Cup
Best bet: Argentina to win the World Cup 4/1
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