Predicting Who Will Be in Argentina's Defence at the World Cup
Playing on their home continent and led by one of the finest players—if not the finest—on the planet in Lionel Messi, optimism is high for the Argentine national team. A world-class attack is the basis for the Albiceleste's confidence that this team can win their first World Cup in 28 years in Brazil.
However, football cannot just be won by scoring goals—a team must be adept at keeping them out at the same time.
Here, I take a look at the goalkeeper and defenders most likely to be called up as Argentina's first-choice back line. Alejandro Sabella has been nothing if not consistent in his team selections, meaning that barring injury or other misfortune, these five men will be spearheading their Brazilian defensive effort.
Goalkeeper: Sergio Romero
The goalkeeper is possibly the most-questioned member of Sabella's entire squad.
It is not difficult to understand why.
Romero has played precious few games since moving to French powerhouse Monaco, and a recent appearance was marked by a rather embarrassing mistake, which contributed to cup elimination.
The Argentina coach clearly sees something in the former Racing Club trainee, who has also enjoyed spells in Sampdoria and AZ during a somewhat nomadic career to date. His size and agility, for one, mark Chiquito out as a fine shot-stopper, capable of covering the entire net.
Right-Back: Pablo Zabaleta
Of the five men who will most likely make up the Argentina defensive line, the name of Pablo Zabaleta is perhaps the least disputed. The Manchester City man has the ability to play on both sides of the pitch, but it will be on the right where his talents are most needed by the Albiceleste.
Solidity at the back and a steady if not electrifying presence going on the offensive, Zabaleta is exactly the kind of consistent performer Argentina will require if their World Cup dreams are to be fulfilled.
Indeed, the mere thought of Nicolas Otamendi suffering against Germany in 2010 is reason enough to keep the City star installed out on the right.
Centre-Back: Ezequiel Garay
Even though he is just 27, Ezequiel Garay seems to have been around European football forever. The central defender has finally put an abortive spell with Real Madrid behind him, and three wonderful seasons with Portugal's Benfica have restored him to the international setup.
Strong in the air but also blessed with excellent positioning and awareness, Garay is key in the nation's quick counters, feeding the ball from deep out wide or to playmakers such as Messi or Fernando Gago. A mere 18 caps is criminally few for the man who is arguably Argentina's finest centre-back currently active.
Centre-Back: Federico Fernandez
The burly Napoli centre-back is an old acquaintance of coach Alejandro Sabella. It was El Pachorro that gave the youngster his first steps in professional football while at Estudiantes. While Fernandez only made two substitute appearances during their triumphant 2009 Copa Libertadores run, at 21 years old, he was a vital part of the side that lifted the 2010 Apertura title in Sabella's last season.
It was Sabella's faith that lifted the centre-back to international football, even when a subsequent Napoli move did not see Fernandez show his best side at first.
Performances have improved following a loan move to Spain with Getafe, and he has formed a natural partnership with Garay that showed its worth during the qualifiers.
Left-Back: Marcos Rojo
Without a doubt, Sporting defender Marcos Rojo has been under heavy pressure in international colours. The scrutiny began almost the day he made his debut—observers remained convinced he was not up to par.
Nevertheless, 20 caps later, the rapid full-back is still the first-choice left-back.
Part of the reason for resistance is certainly his previous relationship with Sabella. The pair's Estudiantes past lends easily to claims of nepotism from outside.
Rojo can also show naivety in his marking, giving the opponent far too much space to operate and dragging back Angel Di Maria from midfield to help.
However, in his best form, the 25-year-old has demonstrated that he can move up and down the pitch as well as any other left-back in the modern game.
His incursions upfield can also play a vital role in Argentina's rapid attacks, aiming to punch a hole in the opposition defence before they know what has happened.