When Argentina open their 2014 World Cup campaign against Bosnia-Herzegovina, they'll not only be the favorites to cruise through Group F—which also includes Iran and Nigeria—but they'll also be one of the favorites to win the entire tournament.
Brazil are currently the popular pick to win it all, but keep in mind that every World Cup hosted by a South American nation has been won by a South American nation. That makes Argentina very, very dangerous at this year's edition.
But can Lionel Messi and company pull off the feat? And what will the starting lineup look like as they begin this year's World Cup?
Let's take a look.
|DF||Jose Maria Basanta|
|MF||Angel Di Maria|
|CM||Angel Di Maria|
There really aren't too many surprises in this lineup and, boy, how scary must it be to face them?
The attacking trio of Messi, Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain is the most dangerous group of forwards in this tournament, and the fact that they can play on the pitch at the same time is frightening. The three of them combined to score 62 goals for their club teams in league play this season (La Liga, Premier League and Serie A, respectively), a blitzkrieg of offense that few teams can handle.
However, Higuain will start the World Cup opener on the bench.
And former player and Argentine legend Osvaldo "Ossie" Ardiles feels Messi will be far better than he was four years ago, when he failed to score a goal, as he told FIFA.com:
This time, Lionel Messi will give the performance we expect of him, I’m sure of that. He played excellently in the qualifiers and shouldered his responsibilities brilliantly—he was our main goalscorer and one of the most decisive players on the pitch. Until midway through this past season he was carrying an injury that he picked up at the end of the previous campaign, but I can see he’s gradually getting back to his best. I reckon he is determined to have an amazing tournament, both on an individual and team level.
If Messi is at his best, he would make a far less talented team than Argentina threatening. On a team with this level of talent, he makes them downright terrifying.
The choices in midfield are hardly surprising as well, namely that of defensive holder Javier Mascherano and Real Madrid man Angel Di Maria, who will reprise his role in a midfield three (he has traditionally played as a winger in the past, but was excellent for Los Blancos in a more central role).
The defense as well isn't full of any surprises. Pablo Zabaleta is the obvious choice as right-back, while Ezequiel Garay and Federico Fernandez pair well together centrally. Marcos Rojo is the weak link of the group, but he's the best option the club has at left-back.
Finally, Sergio Romero isn't one of the better keepers in the World Cup, but he's the obvious choice for Argentina.
As the tournament goes on, however, there will be potential questions at various positions and players that will make an impact for Argentina. Ezequiel Lavezzi is too talented to burn a hole on the bench. Lucas Biglia could feature in the midfield if Fernando Gago falters.
Peel back all the talent, however, and you still have a group of players that seem to generally enjoy playing with one another, which perhaps explains some of Alejandro Sabella's more controversial roster snubs. Sam Kelly of ESPN FC notes:
The importance of the group is why Carlos Tevez—aside from his very pedestrian record at international level—wasn't called up, it's why Federico Fazio, near the end of a fine season for Sevilla, knew he was out of the reckoning after an angry radio interview in which he accused Sabella of "lacking respect" for a player playing "at a high level." It's also why a rumour that Lionel Messi doesn't get on with Willy Caballero, leading to the latter's exclusion, has spread in recent months, although to all appearances that seems to be rubbish—photos emerged of the two hugging in the tunnel ahead of Barcelona's latest match against Malaga.
The group is vital for Sabella, and in one way that is why Caballero's not been called up; whether his relationship with Messi is perfectly cordial or not, it's clear that Romero's relationship not just with the attacking talisman but with the whole squad is fantastic. "We're a group of good friends," he told ESPNDeportes.
Chemistry is far more important on the national stage than people often consider. While players on club teams have plenty of time to develop relationships and figure out how to complement each other on the pitch, national teams simply have less time to work with another. If there isn't a natural chemistry in place, a natural understanding of how to work with one another, it can result in a talented team falling flat.
That doesn't seem to be a concern for this group. For all the talent and potential for ego, this is a group that plays well together as a team. Messi steals the headlines, sure, but no make no mistake about it—this is a unified group that relies on all 11 players on the pitch, not one.
For that reason, they'll cruise through their group. And for that reason, it would hardly be surprising if they won the title at this year's tournament.
It's hard to top a team, a true team, with as much talent as Argentina possess.