Despite little experience as a head coach, Argentina manager Alejandro Sabella has been successful in his brief career. He earned his first job in 2009, taking over at Estudiantes and promptly guiding the Argentine club to the 2009 Copa Libertadores title, then took over the Argentina job in 2011.
Sabella was successful in leading Argentina to the World Cup-they finished on top of the CONMEBOL qualification tournament with a 9-2-5 record. Perhaps more importantly, Sabella is the first coach to successfully integrate Lionel Messi into the team. In the three years that Sabella has managed the team, the Barcelona star has scored more goals than he had in the previous six years of his international career.
With stars such as the aforementioned Messi, Manchester City’s Sergio Agüero and Real Madrid’s Ángel di Maria, Argentina play a free-flowing, attacking style that saw them lead all CONMEBOL teams with 35 goals in qualification.
The team normally employs a 4-3-3 formation in which Javier Mascherano serves as the focal man in the midfield. The Barcelona midfielder’s job is to win the ball and to distribute it to the tiny outside forwards, likely Messi and Agüero, who make slashing runs and attempt to set up center forward Gonzalo Higuain.
Though he is just 27 years old, this will be the second World Cup that Sergio Romero comes in as Argentina’s starter after the lanky goalkeeper played all five matches in 2010. La Albiceleste does have a tradition of doing well without top-class goalkeepers, and Romero certainly fits that bill, serving as the backup at Ligue 1 side Monaco where he’s currently on loan from Sampdoria. If Argentina are going to go far this summer, they’re going to need a big performance from the unheralded Romero who earlier played for AZ in the Netherlands.
Right back Pablo Zabaleta, fresh off a title with Manchester City, is the most talented player on a weak defensive unit. Though he is 29-years-old and only has 36 caps, Zabaleta is one of the best attacking fullbacks in the world.
As he can play either outside back position, Zabaleta usually starts on the right and provides pace, service and intelligence coming forward with a variety of runs forward. This will be the late-bloomer’s first World Cup, but it shouldn’t be a big deal with the loads of important matches that he has participated in for City in the last three years.
This team lives and dies with Lionel Messi, possibly the best player in the world, but somewhat of a polarizing figure on the international level. Though Messi is just 26, he is already the second all-time leading goal-scorer in Argentina’s history with 38 goals, but there are critics who think he hasn’t done enough for Argentina.
In two previous World Cups, Messi has scored just one goal, the sixth in a 6-0 win against Serbia and Montenegro in the group stage in 2006. Even with a plethora of talented attackers around him, Messi is the cream of the crop and this is expected to be the World Cup where he finally makes his mark at more than just the club level.
The best player of the generation and one of the best players of all time still hasn’t done it on the international stage. Lionel Messi is 26 and in the prime of his career. He had an “off” season this year where he scored 28 goals in 31 games and led Barcelona to a second place La Liga finish.
As big of a star as he is, the closest player Argentina has gotten to since Maradona, is a humble individual who is very well liked. In most World Cups, fans root for Brazil once their team is eliminated. This Cup will be different as fans from countries across the world will be rooting for Messi to finally make an impact on the international level.
Club, country, pickup game. It doesn’t matter where Gonzalo Higuain is playing; he’s going to score goals. In 36 caps, Higuain is already tied for eighth place in scoring for Argentina, averaging more than a goal every other game.
Though he came into the 2010 World Cup with just four caps and two goals to his name, Higuain finished tied for fifth in goals with four in the five games he played, including the tournament’s only hat trick, against South Korea.
All the man does is score goals, and with Messi and Agüero on either side of him, it will be extremely difficult for opposing defenses to ignore anyone on the front three.
Argentina is an elite team in many areas, but defense and goalkeeper aren’t one of them. The “attacking six” of the team may be the best six players that any team in the world could possibly line up, but other than Pablo Zabaleta, every defender on the team is both mediocre and inexperienced.
Of all the defenders named to the final roster, Martin Demichelis has the most caps … with 37. A lot of people are picking Argentina to win the tournament, but if they do, their defense will have to grow up a lot in the next month.
Ever since Sabella took over the national team, Carlos Tevez has not received a single call-up. Unsurprisingly, the third-leading goal scorer in Serie A this season was left off the final roster even though he played a major role in Juventus’ 102-point title winning season.
Tevez has always been a controversial figure, playing for six clubs in four countries over the course of his 14-year professional career, but Argentina has too many players that play similar to him, without the off the field distractions.
Once considered as a possible heir to Maradona, Tevez turned out to be an extremely talented false idol. Still, his play this season, and in recent seasons, should be enough to warrant a spot in any World Cup team.
For all the talent that Argentina has, they haven’t won a major trophy since the 1993 Copa America. With arguably the best player in the world playing in a tournament right next to home, nothing short of winning the tournament will be considered a success. This is Messi’s chance to attain the eternal high status that Kempes and Maradona enjoy on a daily basis in their home country.