FIFA World Cup 2010 Predictions: Argentina vs. Nigeria
Day two of the 2010 World Cup continues with Group B match, Argentina vs. Nigeria.
We preview all the action and tell you which players you should be watching.
Argentina: all talent, no tactics
Let’s take a look at the attacking players that Argentina coach Diego Maradona has at his disposal.
Best player in the world, Lionel Messi.
Champions League final game-winner, Diego Milito.
$70M Man City star Carlos Tevez. Real Madrid striker Gonzalo Higain who scored 29 goals this season. Finally there’s Maradona’ son-in-law and Europa League winner with Atletico Madrid, Sergio Aguero.
Astonishing, isn’t it? So how come this team struggled to qualify for South Africa, only securing the South American section’s fourth spot and getting thrashed 6-1 by one of the continent’s worst teams, Bolivia?
The answer probably lies in the coach. Maradona is one of the greatest footballers of all time, but has little coaching experience.
He doesn’t even seem suited to being a coach. As a player he was a free spirit, a maverick, a pint-sized package of passion and pure skill; all the things that most of the world’s great coaches are not.
Under Maradona, Argentina is disjointed, defensively weak, and totally relying on their stars to deliver.
Where are the fullbacks?
A prominent feature of all the recent World Cup winners is a pair of top class fullbacks.
In 2006 Italy had Fabio Grosso and Gianluca Zambrotta. The 2002 Brazil team had Roberto Carlos and Cafu, while in 1998 France relied heavily on the talents of Lillian Thuram and Bixente Lizarazu.
So, another thing that Maradona’s doubters point to is the fact that Argentina’s defense isn't likely to contain one specialist fullback.
Instead, the positions will be filled by players who are nominally center-backs, namely Nicolas Burdisso and Nicolas Otamendi.
Unless, that is, Maradona decides to call on the increasingly erratic Gabriel Heinze.
With his back four arranged like this, Argentina will struggle to create space down the flanks, and will be even more reliant on moments of magic from their talented front line.
Can Lars Lagerbeck help Nigeria deliver?
Nigeria’s coach Lars Lagerback has plenty of World Cup experience. The Swede coached his native country at two previous tournaments.
A very recent appointment as coach of the Super Eagles, Lagerbeck’s short-term job is to bring his experience to bear on a talented team that always seems to under perform.
He hasn’t had long to really change the team that disappointed at this year’s African Cup of Nations, despite reaching the semifinal.
Recent warm-up performances have been mixed, but the Swede will hope the finally getting his roster together ahead of the World Cup will be the time for his ideas and tactics to sink in.
Where will Nigeria’s creativity come from?
Nigeria has a number of effective strikers, including Obafemi Martins and Yakubu Aiyegbeni.
But the team struggles to create chances for the front pair, and the Super Eagles’ midfield tends to lack a creative spark.
This problem was made worse by the late withdrawal of Chelsea’s John Obi Mikel because of injury.
But even Mikel did not represent a proper solution to the problem, and Lagerbeck will have to use all his coaching guile to get his team creating chances.
If he can succeed, their dynamic front two might find the Argentinean defense to be very generous.
Who To Watch: Lionel Messi (Argentina)
The best player in the world hits South Africa on the back of another fantastic season for his club side Barcelona.
Messi helped his team to another Spanish title by scoring 34 league goals, including consecutive hat-tricks against Valencia and Real Zaragoza.
Overall, little Leo scored an astonishing 47 goals in 53 games, four coming in the Champions League quarterfinal second leg against Arsenal.
Yet, doubts remain about his ability to reproduce this form for his national team. A member of Argentina’s medical staff has suggested that Messi is tired after a long, hard club season.
Nigeria will hope he is right. Fans of watching Messi (and if you’re not one then you’re probably a Real Madrid supporter) hope he has enough left to be the star in South Africa.
Who To Watch: Juan Veron (Argentina)
European soccer fans might be surprised to find Juan Veron still running Argentina’s midfield.
The 35-year old left Italy in 2006, returning home to play for Estudiantes, a move that coincided with his omission from la Albiceleste’s 2006 World Cup squad.
But Veron remains an elegant and instinctive passer of the ball, and is likely to be the midfield metronome that keeps Maradona’s team in time.
Who To Watch: Dickson Etuhu (Nigeria)
Fulham’s Dickson Etuhu is one of those players you have to make an effort to notice. But that does not mean he is not doing anything.
Etuhu is a solid midfielder who wins unspectacular tackles, closes down space effectively, and gets attacks going with simple passes.
Keep an eye out for him and watch one of soccer’s unsung talents at work.
Who To Watch: Yakubu Aiyegbeni (Nigeria)
A strong, bullish center forward, the Yak is a popular figure with the fans of his club side Everton.
He missed most of the season after rupturing his achilles tendon, but his recent return from injury included a goal in Nigeria’s 3-1 friendly win against North Korea.
Argentina vs. Nigeria prediction
Our prediction: Draw
Both teams will get their World Cup campaigns off to a sluggish start, but Nigeria will be happier with the point.