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COUNTDOWN 24: One chance for Messi to emulate Maradona

COUNTDOWN 24: One chance for Messi to emulate Maradona
May 22
10:27 2014

Never has a single player been saddled with the weights and expectations of a country as Lionel Messi has presently, same way Argentine legend and former coach, Diego Maradona in 1986.

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The 26-year-old Barcelona talisman has been the best player in the world for four years running before being deposed this year. Aside his current status as captain of La Albiceleste, he leads the line for his club as well. This is similar to Maradona’s situation then; and as the Napoli legend delivered, it is hoped that the former Newells’ Old Boys apprentice would do the same.

La Pulga, as he is fondly called failed, somewhat surprisingly failed to score at the last World Cup in South Africa but will be looking to achieve greatness with his country. He would not only look to win the World Cup, but will want to be the centre of attraction and once again try to eat into legend Gabriel Batistuta’s goal-scoring record of 56 goals, with the La Masia graduate on 36.

Argentina are one of the best countries in the history of the World Cup with two titles in 1978 on home soil and 1986 in Mexico. However, they have been in a downward spiral ever since, failing to progress past the quarter-final stage ever since. They also got knocked out surprisingly at the group stage at Korea/Japan 2002, despite always parading one of the most talented set of players.

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The many failures of the national side warranted the appointment of a pragmatic coach in Alejandro Sabella. The former Estudiantes coach oversaw a relatively straightforward qualification into the tournament, stringing together a 14-match unbeaten run on the road to topping the continent. The 50-year old has World Cup experience as an assistant to Daniel Passarella at France ’98. He has made Messi the focal point of the team, also handing him the captaincy.

Messi would be supported by a star-studded cast, which includes Gonzalo Higuain, Kun Aguero, and Angel Di Maria — dubbed the fantastic quartet. The South Americans also boast the likes of Ezequiel Lavezzi, Javier Mascherano, Pablo Zabaleta and Ezequiel Garay in their quest to replicate the glory days of Maradona’s brilliant solo goal and the ‘Hand of God’ against England en-route their last triumph.

Strength

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Attack! Attack! Attack! That’s the mantra for this attack-minded team if they will make a serious claim on the World Cup. They have a fearsome ensemble of attacking players spearheaded by the trio of Messi, Aguero and Higuain; and with support from Di Maria.

Weakness

Goalkeeping and defence are the sources of concern for Argentine fans. The country has been unable to replace Carlos Roa since retirement and the current incumbent, Sergio Romero — known to be poor at crosses — is a bench-warmer at his club, AS Monaco. Despite this, coach Sabella has stuck to him as there is no better option.

Similarly, in defence, Ezequiel Garay is the only reliable defender on the team, as Demichelis is too error prone and could expose the team to unknown danger at any point in games.

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Last line

Sabella is a stubborn coach who believes only in picking players that fit into his tactics, a situation that has left Carlos Tevez scathing at being snubbed for the World Cup. Coupled with the absence of a Plan B, his Argentine project could be set to fail miserably. Yet he would be praying that history continues to favour his team, as Argentina’s two triumphs have come on American continent.

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