How Argentina Will Line Up Against Ecuador
The hard work is over for the Argentine national team, but after what was an extremely impressive World Cup qualifying campaign, the harder task of making an impact at Brazil 2014 is just seven months around the corner.
Two friendlies this month against fellow World Cup qualifiers, Ecuador and Bosnia & Herzegovina, will give Alejandro Sabella's charges an excellent chance to measure themselves up against potential competition for next year's festival of football.
Will the coach keep faith with the core that achieved qualification? Will the matches serve as an opportunity for fringe players to gain experience? How will the Albiceleste replace Lionel Messi? These are all questions that could begin to be answered on Friday, as the nation takes on Ecuador.
Monaco keeper Sergio Romero has been Argentina's first choice ever since 2009, when Diego Maradona elected the young shot-stopper to take the nation into the World Cup and beyond.
Romero's performances have been more or less even in the intervening four years, some howling errors compensated by generally proficient keeping. However, a lack of playing time that has consistently been a problem since he moved to Europe could still catch up with Chiquito.
The goalkeeper is almost certain to start against Ecuador, but substitutes Mariano Andujar and Agustin Orion are waiting patiently for a chance.
The defence has been a persistent Achilles' heel for the Argentine team, and Sabella has used these latest friendlies to try out alternatives.
Facundo Roncaglia, Lucas Orban and Nicolas Otamendi are three new faces at the back in the current squad, as reported in the Buenos Aires Herald.
The coach is likely to stick with the first-choice names of Pablo Zabaleta, Federico Fernandez and Ezequiel Garay against Ecuador, while Orban could get the nod at left-back due to the absence of Marcos Rojo.
The presence of Javier Mascherano and Angel Di Maria was missed sorely in Argentina's last outing, in what was a gripping 3-2 reverse against bitter rivals Uruguay.
The club rivals, however, will be back in action on Friday, as the Barcelona and Real Madrid stars resume international play.
Fernando Gago, meanwhile, is the only member of the first-choice trident unavailable on Friday. He is currently out with a muscle tear, per Cancha Llena.
Lucas Biglia, who has been in decent form for the Albiceleste, is his likely replacement.
Up front, Argentina are bolstered by the return of two heavyweights unavailable for the final match of World Cup qualifying.
Gonzalo Higuain and Sergio Aguero were both absent for the 3-2 defeat, but take their place in Friday's line-up.
The big absence is Lionel Messi—a hamstring tear will keep the Barcelona star out until the new year, as reported by Sky Sports.
Maxi Rodriguez netted twice against Uruguay and is a possible option up front, while Rodrigo Palacio also impressed in the last set of qualifiers.
Probable Argentine Starting XI
Zabaleta, Fernandez, Garay, Orban
Mascherano, Biglia, Di Maria
Higuain, Aguero, M. Rodriguez