Sergio Aguero and Lionel Messi Are Argentina's Ticket to World Cup Glory
At the 2010 World Cup, Spain became the first European side in 83 years to win football's biggest prize outside of their own continent. Indeed, Argentina's win in 1986 aside, Brazil are the only side to have achieved the feat—having done so on four occasions.
Therefore, the odds are heavily in favour of next summer's World Cup winner coming from South America—with Brazil and Argentina, the two sides with real hopes of success, while Colombia will feel they can also make a significant impact at the event.
The hosts shot straight into the role of pre-tournament favourites with their success at the Confederations Cup earlier this summer, when they shocked reigning world champions Spain 3-0 in the final.
But what of Argentina who, under Alejandro Sabella, have strolled through qualification with just one defeat to their name away at Venezuela?
With their variation of 4-3-3, Argentina have scored more goals than any other side, while also conceding less than all but Colombia. In a qualification process that involves notoriously difficult away trips, it is a highly impressive record.
With Angel di Maria playing a central role ahead of the midfield pivot—typically Fernando Gago and Javier Mascherano—Lionel Messi is then allowed to drift into the centre, while Sergio Aguero typically will drift to the right to add balance to the side. Gonzalo Higuain then plays as the side's central attacking focal point.
Higuain has been the side's second top-scorer in qualifying, finding the back of the net nine times—with Messi ahead by just one effort.
However, it is the Barcelona man and Aguero, with their interchange of positions, that are the key to Argentina's attacking play.
With Mascherano and Gago ahead of a defence that features the likes of Pablo Zabaleta and Ezequiel Garay, the Albiceleste are defensively better than they have been in recent years.
That platform should, in theory, then allow their star-studded forward line to make the significant impact that they had previously been able to—playing ahead of a fragile defensive unit.
Higuain's role is simple—he is the predator in the penalty area. It is the dynamism of the trio behind, though, that makes Sabella's side a major threat.
Messi has been sensational since he was handed the captaincy under Sabella. Over the past year and a half, he has scored 18 international goals—almost doubling his previous career tally for Argentina.
With the team better balanced and Messi installed in a position of responsibility, he has upped his performance levels considerably to come somewhere close to those he regularly shows at club level.
It is no surprise that a settled lineup, that does not try to shoehorn in the likes of Carlos Tevez, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Javier Pastore into the same top-heavy side, has allowed the remaining forward options to shine—and none more so than Messi.
It is Aguero's role, then, to provide industry and intelligence as an attacking foil that will allow Messi to shine.
In qualifying, Aguero has played the role brilliantly. His wandering to the right-flank has unsettled many defences, allowing him to contribute with both goals and assists as Argentina's attack found its rhythm in front of goal.
Defensively, though, the Manchester City player is a hugely important asset. His work-rate in pressuring the opposition defence allows Argentina to push high up the pitch and attempt to win the ball back quickly. His efforts in that regard, generally, are the trigger for the rest of the side to move forward.
Add in Di Maria drifting left from his deeper midfield role and the Argentina attack has a number of options and angles with which to break down opposition defences.
If they can take advantage of their additional knowledge of the Brazilian conditions and atmosphere, Sabella's side will be a real candidate for the world title next summer.
In order for that to happen, though, it will be to Messi and Aguero that Argentina will look for the moments of inspiration that every side needs en-route to title success. Given the duo's natural talents, there is every chance they will deliver when required.
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