ERIC WEIL in BUENOS AIRES: The names of Argentina’s 30 players, from which 23 will go to the World Cup, were presented with a lot of pomp during which 83-year-old federation chief Julio Grondona fell, asleep.
That was, perhaps, understandable: the 30 named by coach Alejandro Sabella did not raise much discussion.
In a country of 40minhabitants, 50pc think they are coaches who suggest some 200 players which should be included in the 23. But Sabella stuck to his idea of forming a group to maintain all the way and including three players with local clubs and eight from the 2010 World Cup squad.
The seven additional players in the list – in case of injuries as some players have just played their last league matches – could possibly be the ones to be left out again from the final 23.
The one clamour was for the inclusion of Carlos Tevez, a leading scorer and 19-times title winner with four foreign clubs apart from Boca Juniors and the under-20 team. He also has 61 senior international appearances but the last ones were at the 2011 Copa America when he did not fit in.
Even Grondona suggested his inclusion but then commented that Tevez might not be happy on the bench and might spoil the harmony of the group. Still, Tevez would have been a good choice if anything happened to Messi.
Argentina´s attack of Aguero, Higuain and Messi will probably be the best in the World Cup but attack alone does not win the trophy and behind them there is an average team for top class soccer.
Selected Fernando Fernández’s injury could keep him out while Gago and Banega have shown poor form in local football and are also recovering while Ricardo Alvarez is not 100pc fit either.
The players, many of whom will not arrive until this week, receive little rest but that problem is shared by other countries also.
The English Premier League’s Uruguayan top scorer, Luis Suárez, for example, will spend his fifth off-season summer playing in international tournaments after the 2010 World Cup, 2011 Copa América, 2012, Olympic Games and 2013 Confederations Cup and next year the Copa America will be a sixth.
Argentina play two internationals – against Trinidad & Tobago in Buenos Aires on June 4 and Slovenia in La Plata on June 7 – before leaving for Brazil. But these may not exactly be serious tests before facing World Cup rivals.
Usually Argentina go to World Cups with great expectations, mostly instilled by the media and officials or players who want to give themselves confidence.
Not this time. Sabella says they are not among the main favourites such as Brazil, Germany and champions Spain. Argentina’s aim is to reach the semifinals, he says. Perhaps with less pressure and this way of thinking, they may even spring a surprise. At least Argentina are not in a particularly strong group with Bosnia, Iran and Nigeria and should reach the knockout stage.
Where Sabella’s tactics are to be challenged is in building a team around Leo Messi. Most teams build from defence upwards. What happens if Messi is injured? Argentina have played without Messi and done well as Di Maria was his best replacement. But Sabella also said they must try to be the best possible team without him by being more compact and occupy spaces.
This is Messi’s third World Cup during which he has only scored one goal. Since then, he has become a leading scorer in every possible competition. This time, hopes all Argentina, he will step up to the goals plate.