Argentina vs. Venezuela: Preview and Prediction for 2014 World Cup Qualifier

Tim Daniels@TimDanielsBRFeatured ColumnistMarch 22, 2013

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - JUNE 9: Lionel Messi #10 of Argentina reacts after scoring his second of two goals during the first half of an international friendly soccer match on June 9, 2012 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Argentina will look to maintain or extend its lead atop CONMEBOL qualifying for the World Cup against Venezuela. The Vinotinto are the only country to earn a victory over the Albiceleste in the group's first nine matches.

As always, all eyes will be on Lionel Messi. The Barcelona superstar leads the Argentina attack and continues to dominate at the club level, averaging more than a goal per game across all competitions for the Spanish giants.

Before last year, he struggled to match that type of success with the Albiceleste. He had never scored more than six goals in a year for Argentina before 2012, when he exploded for 12 in nine appearances. That's what the team needs to be at its best.

Messi will likely be joined on the attack by Gonzalo Higuain and Ezequiel Lavezzi, giving the squad a very impressive group up front.

The key for Argentina will be controlling the midfield in order to create chances for that trio of forwards. It's a task that's a little more difficult due to the absence of Angel di Maria, but manager Alejandro Sabella still has a solid group to choose from.

It should be led by Maxi Rodriguez and Fernando Gago with Javier Mascherano assuming his usual defensive midfield role. That trio should be able to keep Venezuela under pressure in the middle of the field and ensure Argentina wins the possession battle.

The Vinotinto counter with a solid midfield group of their own, led by the always reliable Juan Arango, who's made over 100 appearances for the national team. The veteran duo of Cesar Gonzalez and Franklin Lucena will probably be charged with working the middle of the field.

Nevertheless, the edge in that area still goes to Argentina. The advantage for either side along the back line is negligible. Argentina features a couple of high-upside players, including Marcos Rojo, but Venezuela has plenty of experience.

If the Albiceleste have their way, the back line won't be under much pressure. Look for them to establish a conservative pace in the early going. They should be able to create the better chances and don't want to leave too many counterattacking opportunities available for Venezuela.

Ultimately, Argentina should be able to exact some revenge for that earlier defeat and move one step closer to securing its spot in next year's World Cup.

Prediction: Argentina 3, Venezuela 1