So… will they, won’t they?
They are, and always have been, one of the best football teams in the world. Of that no one has any doubt. They had Maradona as a player (good), they had Maradona as a manager (bad), and they have Messi. Messi! At the 2014 World Cup, what could possibly go wrong?
[At this point, with your palms upward, bring together the forefinger and thumb and bounce up and down exclaiming “¿Qué sé yo?”. Roughly translated as “What. The. Hell. Do. I. Know?”]
Argentina, or La Selección as it’s often known, is on paper a fairly likely candidate to make the World Cup final, if not win it. Yet they are the perennial underachievers (an epithet previously reserved for Spain, until they won the 2010 World Cup in South Africa). Yet I’m remaining confident. I’ll be wearing my Argentina jersey, I’ll be staying up until 2am to watch a group stage match between Argentina and Bosnia & Herzegovina, and I’m hopeful of victory. There is the chance I’m alone in this, but let’s look at the evidence.
Photo by Thomas Couto.
Reason #1: The Heritage
Argentina are an amazing team. They’re still ranked third in the world (and it’s been more than 20 years since they won anything that anyone really cares about). This is a country that excels, astonishes and thrills at football in a way no other country does… and that includes Brazil for my money. The beautiful game was introduced by the British in the mid-19th century, and the world’s third oldest league (after Britain and the Netherlands) was begun.
The first game for the Argentinian national team was a win against Uruguay in 1902. They made their first World Cup final in 1930 which they lost 4-2 to Uruguay (OUCH!). The next World Cup final they took part in was on home ground beating the Netherlands 3-1 in 1978, at the height of the Dirty War. They won again in 1986, beating West Germany 3-2, and summoning El Mano de Dios in the process (let’s remind ourselves again; oh and the best goal (and commentary?) of all time). Germany got their revenge in 1990 beating Argentina in the 85th minute. And since then, World Cup-wise, frankly, they’ve sucked. Sure there were gold medals in Athens and Beijing, but, and I mean this with all due respect, who cares about Olympic Golds in football when the World Cup is just around the corner?
Reason #2: The Team
Messi! Messi! Messi! Yup. Argentina has The Best Player In The WorldTM. I doubt there’s anyone who disagrees with this (especially given The Real Argentina’s readership; but even if this was The Real Portugal or The Real Brazil, I imagine it’d be the same). Yet, and it’s a big YET, Argentina have never performed well with Lionel Messi. There was the disastrous 2010 South Africa World Cup in which the squad was, er, to put it diplomatically, lacklustre. Even under Maradona. Messi has always struggled with the national team. But at Brazil 2014 he will be captain, and his team also includes a few players who haven’t done badly this season:
Pablo Zabaleta (Manchester City)
Martín Demichelis (Manchester City)
Javier Mascherano (Barcelona)
Ángel di María (Real Madrid)
Sergio Agüero (Manchester City)
Gonzalo Higuaín (Napoli)
To reiterate that’s: Sergio Agüero, Gonzalo Higuaín, Ángel di María and Lionel Messi in one team. If they play well Argentina wins the World Cup. (Note that Carlos Tevez, remarkably, didn’t get a place).
It should also be said that only four of the provisional team actually play in Argentina. This doesn’t make for the most cohesive team.
The Argentinian team, however, are one of the most talented teams ever to be put in front of a football. Ever. The players mentioned above, and much of the squad are playing at the pinnacles of their career. It’s now or never. Hunger is not in doubt this year, as it was in 2010, and this is down to one fella: Alejandro Sabella, the manager.
Reason #3: The Manager
For Alejandro Sabella, balance is the key. Argentina can not rely only on Messi. Sabella is understated about his chances: “It’s very difficult to become world champions. We mustn’t believe we’re the best. In fact, we know we’re not the best, but we are a power.”
As a player Sabella had spells at Sheffield United, Leeds and Estudiantes, before retiring. As a coach he only had a spell at Estudiantes between 2009-2011 – winning the Copa Libertadores and the Apertura in 2010 – before becoming manager of the national squad. But he seems to have a knack for doing what few Argentinian coaches have done before him: bringing a team together for a certain, ahem, goal. Under Sabella, Argentina has won 19, drawn nine and lost four. They had a great run in the qualifiers too. It bodes well.
Photo by Adam Jones.
Reason #4: The Draw
Let’s be honest. Bosnia & Herzegovina, Iran and Nigeria do not pose a threat. At all. In fact, according to this difficulty rating Argentina officially has the easiest draw of any team. For a team that consists of some of the world’s best players, getting through the group stage should be easy. The strong-armed Nigerians could really be the only unknown. But Argentina must learn to enjoy themselves on the pitch. The killer instinct has not been there for many years. If they don’t hammer at least one of these teams for four goals, the rest of the tournament could be problematic.
Here’s where it descends into hypothesis, but stick with me: If Argentina win their group, they’ll play the second place in Group E (France, Switzerland, Ecuador, Honduras). Presuming France win, that’ll be Switzerland. Doddle. Things get trickier in the quarter-finals. If we presume the highest FIFA ranked team wins, Argentina would play Portugal. Ouch. If we win, then it’s Italy in the semi-final and, you’ve guessed it: Brazil in the final… Oh yes!
Reason #5: The Fans
Hinchas. There’s no other group of fans like the Argentines. There’s a saying: Hinchada hay una sola; There’s only one fan.
Even the Japanese copy their songs.
And even the Pope is on their side. What can go wrong?
Argentina’s group stage schedule (Brazilian time)
June 15, Rio de Janeiro, 23:00
Argentina v Bosnia and Herzegovina
June 21, Belo Horizonte, 17:00
Argentina v Iran
June 25, Porto Alegre, 17:00
Nigeria v Argentina
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