Erik Lamela Can Be Argentina's Trump Card at World Cup 2014
Tottenham's brilliant midfielder Erik Lamela has the potential to become a superstar for the Argentine national side in the future, but at the upcoming World Cup the youngster could well be the joker in the pack for the Albicelestes.
The uber-talented 21-year-old is now regularly being called up by national team coach Alejandro Sabella and has won a handful of caps thus far.
By the 2018 World Cup it would be no surprise if he is a central cog of the Argentina side, and although he won't be a certain starter in Brazil next year, that is not to say he can't make an important contribution.
The axis of Argentina's attacking powers currently lies in the linkup play between the critical centerpiece, Lionel Messi, the man who most often feeds him the ball from midfield, Fernando Gago, and the other forward men Gonzalo Higuain, Sergio Aguero and Angel di Maria on the left.
When Messi is firing he is almost unstoppable, but he needs to be working well with those around him to make the most of his otherworldly skills. So far, Gago has proved an effective accomplice for "La Pulga," ensuring he receives the ball regularly and in the right areas of the pitch.
World-class forwards Aguero and Higuain are not only extremely dangerous attacking players in their own right, they also combine well with Messi in and around the box.
Di Maria can usually be found patrolling the left flank, where he has shown his immense worth regularly as a creative threat and tactically disciplined workhorse.
So where does Lamela fit into the equation?
Firstly, he is talented and flexible enough to adapt to almost any of the roles carried out by the players mentioned above should one of them get injured or suffer a dip in form during the tournament.
Though not a target man, "Coco" could play on either side of a front three as Higuain and Aguero normally do, or as a left-sided attacking midfielder like di Maria.
He does not possess the same defensive attributes as Gago, but could comfortably supplant him in midfield if Argentina were chasing a game and Sabella wanted to add more dynamism.
Former Argentina international Ossie Ardiles spoke highly of the player after his transfer to Tottenham was confirmed, telling the club's official website:
He’s a brilliant player. Of all the really top players Tottenham have bought for this season, he is the one that excites me the most.
And not at all becomes he too comes from Argentina! It’s simply because of the way he plays. He’s a different type of player; to my mind a real Spurs player.
These days you could describe a lot of players as manufactured. But not Lamela. He is a natural – and very talented. He is also extremely mature in his game for his age.
Most importantly, Lamela could be the man to step in should the unthinkable happen and (make sure you're sitting down for this, Albiceleste fans) Messi gets injured.
No footballer on the planet could adequately replace the Barcelona No. 10, but Lamela's explosive turn of pace, superb dribbling skills, inventive passing game and eye for goal would make him among the most obvious candidates to fill the void.
Coco's ingrained self assurance (even cockiness) would prove a valuable attribute in such a situation, considering the immense pressure that would suddenly be placed on his young shoulders.
Argentine journalist Martin Eula, writing in sports daily Ole (Spanish), maintains that Lamela would be the best fit should the Albicelestes lose Messi:
His great season with Roma... made it inevitable that he would be called up.
And it wouldn't be a bad thing to play in the place of the irreplaceable Messi in a position similar to that which Leo himself often plays in.
Lamela has character and is a leader. He emerged from a struggling River side and showed what he could do for a bipolar Roma.
Even if Argentina is fortunate to not be struck by any injury disasters in midfield or attack during Brazil 2014, Sabella could still find Lamela a very handy squad member to have.
As he has shown in his early days at Tottenham, he is able to come off the bench in the second half of matches and inject some spark into a team in need of inspiration.
He could also take some of the creative pressure off Messi, allowing him to move forward into goal-scoring positions.
Any experience the River Plate product gains during the tournament may end up being highly beneficial to Argentina when the 2018 World Cup rolls around.
It will be a bonus for the Albicelestes if he makes a splash in Brazil, but there is no doubting he has the ability and temperament to do so.
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