5 Youngsters Who Could Make Late Push for a Place in Argentina World Cup Squad
At times, it seems that Argentina enjoys an almost bottomless pool of footballing talent.
Like in any team, there are weaknesses, but the South American nation has a virtual production line of prospects eager to displace those world-class names at the top in attacking and creative positions.
As coach of the Albiceleste, Alejandro Sabella faces the dilemma of cutting that list of hopefuls down to 23 World Cup places. In no other area will the fight be as tough as in the midfield and forward positions, but across the pitch there will be fierce competition to make the plane to Brazil.
The following are all young hopefuls on the fringes of the team, who need a strong six months to break through into Sabella's plans.
Argentina's first-choice midfield trident of Javier Mascherano, Fernando Gago and Angel Di Maria is a powerful, well-balanced trio among the best in international football. Gago's fitness is a constant question mark, however, and quality cover in the middle of the park could prove vital during the rigourous World Cup campaign.
Matias Kranevitter, a product of the world-famous River Plate academy, has burst onto the scene and has an outside chance of consideration should Gago not make the cut. The 20-year-old defensive midfielder, a native of Tucuman, has shown ample grit and determination in a struggling River team. He couples his tenacity with no little skill on the ball.
It is a long shot to see the kid make the World Cup squad, but his ascendancy has been frighteningly rapid and another strong season could push him well into contention.
Lisandro Ezequiel Lopez
While the Argentine team is formidable both on paper and in practice going forward, there is one glaring weakness in the setup. The Albiceleste defence, despite years of tinkering and trying new talent, still fails to convince in the same way as that star-studded forward line.
Federico Fernandez and Ezequiel Garay are the preferred duo in the middle, but 24-year-old Lisandro Ezequiel Lopez is keen to change that. The towering defender is currently on loan at Getafe from Benfica, but previously established a glowing reputation thanks to three exemplary years with Arsenal de Sarandi.
Lopez is a cultured defender whose strength nevertheless lies in aerial battles; very rarely will you see the native of Santa Fe province lose a header. That goes for the opposition box as well, recording a very reasonable goal every six games while at Arsenal.
Tottenham midfielder Erik Lamela has consistently been included in Alejandro Sabella's squads for the past year-and-a-half. He faces a significant roadblock to the team, however, in the shape of Angel Di Maria—arguably the most consistent performer for the national team since Sabella took over.
Lamela's struggles to reproduce his Roma form since moving to White Hart Lane have so far not affected his chances with the Albiceleste. The 21-year-old graduate of the River Plate academy is valued for his versatility, strength and football brain. Out of all the young hopefuls, he is the most likely to get the nod for Brazil.
Gino Peruzzi first made a name for himself outside of Argentina with one fearsome marking job. None other than Neymar, then of Santos, was harried and pressured out of the game by the unknown Velez Sarsfield full-back during a Copa Libertadores tie between the two.
The 21-year-old saw his star quickly rise with Velez, forming a part of the team that lifted the 2012 Inicial before moving to Italy with Catania in 2013. Adept at playing either in defence or midfield, he would be a valuable utility player for Sabella's squad.
The current Inter starlet took the Lionel Messi route to Europe, moving from his native Rosario to Barcelona. However, it was in Italy—and most notably during an excellent loan spell with Sampdoria—that the 20-year-old striker showed that he had real potential.
The dual Argentine-Italian passport holder had been touted to make the switch to the Azzurri, but Sabella cut short that opportunity by handing Icardi his debut against Uruguay in the final World Cup qualifier.
It is easy to see why: He is strong, powerful, quick on his feet and possesses a brilliant shot, making him one of Argentina's best all-round forwards despite his young age.
The media circus that has surrounded his relationship with model and ex-wife of Maxi Lopez, Wanda Nara (above), has meant that recent publicity around Icardi has rarely been related to football. However, if he can do his talking on the pitch for Inter, the kid has a great chance of going to Brazil.