Heavily backed to win the 2014 World Cup, Argentina begin their tournament with a tough test against the in-form Bosnia-Herzegovina in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday.
Though negotiating Group F hardly seems a daunting task for the star-studded Argentines, finding form ahead of the knockout stage will be crucial on their quest for World Cup No. 3.
Bosnia, meanwhile, will be looking to upset the odds in their first-ever World Cup and hoping to spoil the Argentina party on Sunday.
Venue: Estadio do Maracana, Rio de Janerio
Date: Sunday 15 June
Time: 11 p.m. BST/6 p.m. ET
TV Info: BBC One/ESPN
Argentina to Prove Favourites Tag
Argentina’s recent World Cup record is somewhat mystifying. Though they’ve always boasted a line-up of world-class stars, they haven’t progressed beyond the quarter-finals since 1990—per Zico for The Guardian.
The 2010 World Cup showed signs of encouragement for Argentina before Germany demolished them 4-0 in the quarter-finals, but this time around, the men from South America have what it takes to go all the way.
With Sergio Aguero, Angel di Maria, Javier Mascherano, Pablo Zabaleta and, of course, Lionel Messi donning the famous light-blue-and-white shirt this summer, the possibilities are endless.
Though individual talent doesn’t necessarily make a team, the way that Alejandro Sabella has forged his team together makes Argentina a remarkable outfit both on paper and on the pitch.
Messi will steal the limelight in any side, but with such talent around him, it’ll likely be team brilliance that sees the 26-year-old improve on his record of just one World Cup goal rather than thrilling 50-yard runs.
With that in mind, Bosnia coach Safet Susic insisted that his side won’t be sacrificing a player to man-mark Messi when the action gets underway on Sunday—per FIFA.com:
It is a dilemma for me, but to sacrifice a player just to man-mark Messi, I don’t think it would be good for us. We have a player who would be ideal for man-marking Messi—this player is [Muhamed] Besic—but this guy is so well prepared physically that it wouldn’t be good for us to make him track Messi. Messi sometimes stands for several minutes, not participating in the match. It would therefore be a shame to sacrifice a player [to mark him]. Messi will probably enjoy plenty of freedom, but each time he gets the ball, somebody needs to be near him. But I don’t think we have ever played a match having dedicated a player to man-mark a specific opponent, and it’s going to be the same [against Argentina].
Such talk gives off the impression that Susic and Bosnia are going to be going for it in Rio, and they’re certainly coming into the tournament with the kind of form to give it their best shot.
According to Soccerway, Bosnia have lost just one of their last 10 competitive internationals and put together impressive victories against the Ivory Coast and Mexico in their warm-up matches.
Manchester City star Edin Dzeko will be the Bosnians’ key man against Argentina, with his aerial prowess and finishing ability good enough to unlock any international defence.
His two goals against the Ivory Coast last month showed exactly what he brings to the international stage, with his movement proving too much for the Ivorians to handle.
Though Argentina have some incredible talent in their ranks, it’ll take a solid defensive display to keep Dzeko quiet on Sunday.
Their recent record seems to suggest that they’ll have no problem doing that, though, with Soccerway’s statistics showing that Argentina haven’t conceded a single goal since October 2013, winning three of their last five matches.
However, if you thought Argentina’s defence had it rough, just take a look at the task facing Bosnia’s back line.
With di Maria, Messi, Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Maxi Rodriguez to handle, Bosnia may well be picking the ball out of their net several times before Sunday’s play is up.
Iran and Nigeria then have to face Messi and Co., and if they can find their feet quickly against Bosnia, then it could be three group-stage wins out of three for Sabella’s men.