Twice crowned champions in 1978 and 1986, and ranked 8th by FIFA, Argentina battled through the tournament qualifiers for a 10th consecutive appearance at the World Cup. Argentina haven’t won a major tournament after Copa America in 1993. Team coach, Maradona, will be hoping to rectify that shortfall. Maradona, whose coaching will be under the microscope, is relying on Lionel Messi, to fire. However, Veron and team captain Javier Mascherano are the strikers who really hold Argentina’s fortunes, on their shoulders.
All the strikers have been in tremendous form in club football, this past season, scoring 163 goals in 250 matches between them. Martin Palermo, Gonzalo Higuain, Sergio Aguero, Diego Milito, Carlos Tevez and Lionel Messi are names that could make any defender shudder at thr prospect of playing against.
Maradona is relatively unpopular with the team, and this is a cross they will have to bear, as they go about their campaign. And given the struggle against weaker teams, in the qualifiers, there is a question mark over Maradona’s coaching skills, notwithstanding his legendary status as a player.
Maradona has experimented a lot with his team, using no fewer than 88 players in less than a year. This has not gone down well with his critics, especially the media, and the former captain and star player has made no secret of his lack of fondness for journalists.
He also had a much publicised spat with Argentine player Riquelme, and the coach went ot the extent of talking against the player on national television.
One of the criticisms levelled against Maradona’s team selection is that the accent is on attack, at the expense of defence. And the fact that this weakness is unlikely to be exposed in the preliminary group stage could prove to be a negative by itself, as high scores in the group stages could lead to lop sided selection when it comes to crucnh matches from the round of 16 onwards.
Neither Nigeria nor a much improved N. Korea are likely to pose a big challenge in group B, and the only match of interest would be against Greece, the Euro 2004 champions, who had great luck in qualifying for the World Cup.
Argentina should lead their group, and probably meet Uruguay in the round of 16, and Germany in the quarter-final. If they manage to scrape past Germany to the semi-final, they will probably meet the winner of an Italy versus Spain encounter.
And that should be a mouth watering prospect for any football fan.