World Cup Preview#2 : Argentina

When Diego Maradona took the job of managing Argentina's national team, there were mixed reactions. Most thought he neither had the experience nor the tactical mind to take a high profile yet underachieving Argentina to a World cup win. But make no mistake, everyone agreed on one thing. With Diego, it will never be boring.

The qualifying campaign was anything but smooth. Argentina made heavy work of beating a weak Peru in the final game and receiving a favor from Uruguay who drew in their final game enabling Argentina to squeeze into the showpiece in South Africa.

Almost 2 years in and trying out close to 100 players in the qualifiers and friendlies, experts and fans alike are scratching their heads on what this Argentina about, the formation, the style etc. If anything the provisional squad announced by Maradona made the matters worse adding more confusion.

Based on what Maradona has done in the past (again, this means jack as far as what he will do in the world cup :)) Argentina will play in a 4-4-2 or 4-4-1-1 at the start.

Maradona announced that Heinze, Samuel, Di Michelis and Ottamendi will be the starting back four, the problem all of these are primarily central defenders. This is a big problem if the fullbacks cannot overlap and support the attacking midfielders. If you have seen Javier Zanetti with Inter the last few seasons, it makes no sense he is not in list of 30.

In the midfield, Juan Veron is the brain and Mascherano does the dirty work. The problem here is Veron is past his prime and is a 45-minute player at best. And there is no real backup for Veron. If Veron has to substituted early into the 2nd half, either Argentina have to change shape or put someone like Javier Pastore who is very different from Veron in his place.

Upfront, Maradona is spoiled for choice. He has Messi, Tevez, Higuain, Milito who have scored close to 120 goals put together season. Messi and Higuain/Milito are primed to start. Again, no clue why he has picked up 36 year old Palermo.

How will Argentina play?

Argentina will employ a 4-4-2 with Messi as the 2nd striker behind Milito or Higuain. Maxi Rodriguez and Angel Di Maria will probably accompany Veron and Mascherano in a classic 2-pivot 4-4-2 or 4-4-1-1.

I see two main problems
1. With no true fullbacks, Argentina will lack both width and depth in attack.
2. Quality opponents could mark out Messi and make him come deep into midfield to get the ball taking him out of spaces around the box and between the midfield and the centre forward where he is most dangerous.

As a result, the back four and the midfield will be disjointed from the attacking players. I cant read Maradona's mind (i dont think anyone can) but the plan seems to be keep a clean-sheet at the back and either pass the ball to Messi and ask him to do the rest or lump long balls forward hoping to sneak a goal and ride it out.
If the above fails and Argentina go behind, Maradona will throw in more strikers but there is not much in the list of 30 that shows they can change something dramatically.

How far they will go?
Argentina is in a relatively easy group with Nigeria, South Korea and Greece. The quality upfront with Messi & company should see them through this group and they would run into either Mexico, France or Uruguay in the 2nd round. Again I can see Argentina squeezing through the 2nd round as they dont really run into a heavyweight.

Quarterfinals is the farthest I see them going, and I wont be surprised if they get eliminated earlier.

Note to Argentine Football Association (AFA) : Please go get a real coach. You are doing tremendous disservice to lot of hugely talented players. And this is coming from a die-hard fan of Diego Armando Maradona, the player.

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