Argentina is labelled as being one of the powerhouses of international football. With a population of 40m, football is the nation’s favourite sport, evident in the level of support for local teams in the country. There are over 2.5m players in the country, with over 300 000 registered footballers. The government intervened in a financial crisis last year which delayed the start of the season, giving the Football Association nearly £100m for broadcasting rights and thereby enabling football to be shown on terrestrial television for free.
The domestic league is competitive and has seen the rise of several young Argentine stars, who have then gone on to play for top European clubs. Less than 20 percent of the squad for Argentina’s friendly against Germany was playing in the country itself, though Coach Diego Maradona has utilised several players from the home league in qualifying. The Albicelestes go into the upcoming World Cup hoping to revive past glories and win the competition, just as they did in 1978 and 1986. Having recently won the Olympic football tournament in 2008, the squad for South Africa could boast some of the game’s most promising youngsters within its ranks. Argentina currently finds itself as the seventh best team in the FIFA World Rankings. For a nation possessing some of the world’s finest attacking talents, Argentina made heavy work of qualifying for this summer’s competition. Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero and Carlos Tevez came within 90 minutes of missing out on the prestigious tournament, but a relieved Maradona was able to boast his team’s qualification following a much-needed 1-0 victory over Uruguay.
Maradona became Coach during a troubling time for the national football team, who were underperforming at the qualification stage. A change in management seemed to work wonders as Argentina went on to secure a 4-0 victory against Venezuela in Maradona’s first game in charge. However, under his leadership the team also performed disgracefully at times, most notably in their 6-1 defeat at the hands of Bolivia at an altitude of 3600 metres – the height making several players uneasy. Fortunately South African stadiums are at considerably lower altitudes than that. Nevertheless, having eventually qualified for the tournament, Argentina must now be taken as serious contenders for the trophy, quite simply because of the wealth of talent Maradona has at his disposal.
The Albicelestes will face relatively simple opponents in Group B – Nigeria, Greece and Korea Republic. With a path into the next stage almost certain, it remains to be seen whether Argentina will have forgotten their troublesome qualifying campaign should they come up against tougher opponents in the knock-out rounds. With little time remaining, the Coach will have to carefully analyse the strengths of the players available to him, choosing those who performed reasonably over the last two years as opposed to the poorer performing players. Maradona has been in experimental mode ever since he took charge, selecting well over 50 players to represent the nation, whilst playing a vast number of different formations at the same time. Maradona strangely played 4 centre-backs in defence against Uruguay and also recently against Germany in the friendly. The performances were good on these occasions, but it will be interesting to see whether this defensive line will continue. It is still unclear as to what style Argentina will play come the summer, though a 4-3-1-2 is a frequent choice.
Maradona’s team won’t make headlines for their defensive quality and games for Argentina could well be won or lost in attack. World Player of the Year Messi will be expected to set the tournament alight and will be aided by Tevez and Aguero. The Coach will have to dabble within the depth of his squad to find a balance between young talent and old jewels if Argentina are to go all the way. The likes of Juan Sebastian Veron and Diego Milito could feature prominently if wise heads are needed. Veron, who was left out of the squad for the last World Cup, will undoubtedly feature in this one, following a host of good performances recently at both club and international level.
At the last World Cup , Argentina managed to carve their way towards the quarter-finals. This time, they will be expected to match that, if not go a step further, thanks to the talent in their squad. In essence, Maradona should have no problem steering his side past the group stages. But with France a possibility in the second round, Germany in the quarter-finals and Brazil in the semi-finals, Maradona will have to ensure his side do not make the same mistakes as they did in the qualifying stages, otherwise this tournament will prove a failure for some of the world’s best athletes.