Team Profile: Argentina
- Coach: Diego Maradona
- Goalkeepers: Sergio Romero (AZ Alkmaar/Netherlands), Mariano Andujar (Catania/Italy), Diego Pozo (Colon)
- Defenders: Nicolas Otamendi (Velez Sarsfield), Martin Demichelis (Bayern Munich/Germany), Walter Samuel (Inter Milan/Italy), Gabriel Heinze (Marseille/France), Nicolas Burdisso (AS Roma/Italy), Ariel Garce (Colon), Clemente Rodriguez (Estudiantes)
- Midfielders: Jonas Gutierrez (Newcastle/England), Juan Sebastian Veron (Estudiantes), Javier Mascherano (Liverpool/England), Angel Di Maria (Benfica/Portugal), Javier Pastore (Palermo/Italy), Maxi Rodriguez (Liverpool/England), Mario Bolatti (Fiorentina/Italy)
- Forwards: Lionel Messi (Barcelona/Spain), Gonzalo Higuain (Real Madrid/Spain), Carlos Tevez (Manchester City/England), Diego Milito (Inter Milan/Italy), Sergio Aguero (Atletico Madrid/Spain), Martin Palermo (Boca Juniors)
Style of play: Employing a 4-4-2 formation, Argentina uses a flat-back four in defence, with the defenders playing a high line in order to squeeze the open space and midfield and spring the offside trap on opponents. Defensive bulwark Javier Mascherano does the dirty work in the centre of midfield, allowing veteran playmaker Juan Sebastian Veron to pull the creative strings through the middle and Angel Di Maria to attack down the wings. Lionel Messi slots in up front, but he'll drop further back and play as a deep-lying forward, and use his speed and dribbling skills to take on defenders, and play off the main striker, either Gonzalo Higuain or Diego Milito.
- June 12 vs. Nigeria in Johannesburg
- June 17 vs. South Korea in Johannesburg
- June 22 vs. Greece in Polokwane
Projected starting lineup (4-4-2): (GK) Sergio Romero - (D) Nicolas Otamendi, Martin Demichelis, Walter Samuel, Gabriel Heinze - (M) Javier Mascherano, Juan Sebastian Veron, Jonas Gutierrez and Angel Di Maria - (F) Gonzalo Higuain, Lionel Messi
- Offensive depth - The quality of Argentina's attacking option up front is simply awesome. Lionel Messi is the best player on the planet, Gonzalo Higuain was explosive for Real Madrid this season, as were Carlos Tevez (Manchester City), Diego Milito (Inter Milan) and Sergio Aguero (Atletico Madrid). Argentina will not be wanting for goals.
- Strong midfield - Veteran playmaker Juan Sebastian Veron is playing some of the best soccer of his career since being recalled to the national team in 2009. He is surrounded by Javier Mascherano, considered one of the best defensive midfielders in the game, and Angel Di Maria, one of Argentina's brightest young prospects. And coming off the bench are talented players such as Javier Pastore, Maxi Rodriguez and Mario Bolatti.
- Easy group - The likes of South Korea, Greece and Nigeria can hardly be considered stern competition, which means Argentina should have a pretty easy time of it in the first round.
- The Maradona factor - Controversy always seems to follow El Diego. The Argentine coach is being questioned over several of his team selections (namely his decision to leave Javier Zanetti and Esteban Cambiasso at home), as well as his tactical stubbornness and his refusal to take advice from his more experienced coaching staff. The inevitable media circus will hound Maradona the entire tournament, which will be a major distraction for his players.
- Defence - Argentina has serious defensive problems in the qualifiers, conceding a whopping 23 goals in 18 games. Gabriel Heinze is a defensive liability, but Maradona insists on starting him and relying on him as his defensive general on the field.
- The Messi factor - There's no question that Lionel Messi is the best player on the planet. But the Argentine whiz has never been able to come close to duplicating his sensational form for pro club FC Barcelona with the national team, who use a different system and employ Messi in a different role than the Spanish outfit. Questions remain as to whether or nor Maradona can figure out a way to bring out the best in Messi.
Players to watch:
- Javier Mascherano - The Liverpool star is an uncompromising defensive midfielder who is among the best ball winners in the game. Although he has a fiery temper, Mascherano is an excellent tackler capable of stealing the ball from even the most confident attacker.
- Lionel Messi - Diego Maradona labelled Messi is his "successor," based on his skill and playing style. The Argentine ace is the best player in the world today. He has it all: speed, vision, a blistering shot, sublime passing skills, deft dribbling and the ability to make the impossible look routine.
- Carlos Tevez - The Manchester City star's energy reserves are bottomless; no matter what the score, El Apache will go all out till the referee blows his whistle. He has speed to match his impressive strength and will put himself in harm's way to score.
Key injuries/squad omissions: In a shocking decision, Diego Maradona decided not to select defender Javier Zanetti and midfielder Esteban Cambiasso, two veterans of the national team who are both coming off sensational seasons with Inter Milan. Maradona also chose not to pick Real Madrid midfielder Fernando Gago, Valencia star Ever Banega and Manchester City defender Pablo Zabaleta. Barcelona central defender Gabriel Milito, who only recently returned to action following a lengthy injury layoff, was also overlooked. Defenders Fabricio Coloccini and Juan Manuel Insaurralde, midfielders Sebastian Blanco, Jesus Datolo, Jose Sosa and Juan Mercier, and forward Ezequiel Lavezzi were cut from Argentina's preliminary squad
Prognosis: Quarter-finals/semifinals. The soccer gods have been kind to Argentina. On top of being drawn into an easy first-round group, Diego Maradona's team also has a pretty clear path to the semifinals - although a potential quarter-final clash with Germany could trip them up. Yes, Argentina has issues, namely Maradona's lack of coaching experience, but this team has too much talent not to make through to the quarter-finals at the very least. Bet on them making the final four. From there, who knows? Maybe they can go on to win it all.
ROAD TO SOUTH AFRICA
- Current FIFA ranking: #7
- Qualification route: Argentina finished in fourth place (28 points) in the South American qualifiers, claiming the last automatic World Cup berth ahead of fifth-place Uruguay (24 points).
- Key to qualification: Resolve. Things looked pretty dire for Argentina as the South American qualifiers were winding down. Diego Maradona's team was staring elimination squarely in the face, but they managed to earn six points in their final two games with wins over Peru and Uruguay (both on late goals) to claim an automatic World Cup berth.
- Crucial result: A 1-0 win over Uruguay (Oct. 14, 2009 in Montevideo) on the final day of the South American qualifiers saw Argentina claim the fourth and final automatic World Cup berth, thus narrowly avoiding the prospect of having to play a two-game playoff against the fourth-best team from CONCACAF (Costa Rica) for the right to go to South Africa.
- Qualifying record: 18 games played, 8 wins, 4 draws, 6 losses
- Goals for: 23
- Goals against: 20
- Top goal-scorer in qualifying: Sergio Aguero, Juan Ramon Riquelme, Lionel Messi (4)
Qualifying results: (home team listed first)
- Oct. 13, 2007 - Argentina 2, Chile 0
- Oct. 16, 2007 - Venezuela 0, Argentina 2
- Nov. 17, 2007 - Argentina 3, Bolivia 0
- Nov. 20, 2007 - Colombia 2, Argentina 1
- June 15, 2008 - Argentina 1, Ecuador 1
- June 18, 2008 - Brazil 0, Argentina 0
- Sept. 6, 2008 - Argentina 1, Paraguay 1
- Sept. 10, 2008 - Peru 1, Argentina 1
- Oct. 11, 2008 - Argentina 2, Uruguay 1
- Oct. 15, 2008 - Chile 1, Argentina 0
- March 28, 2009 - Argentina 4, Venezuela 0
- April 1, 2009 - Bolivia 6, Argentina 1
- June 6, 2009 - Argentina 1, Colombia 0
- June 10, 2009 - Ecuador 2, Argentina 0
- Sept. 5, 2009 - Argentina 1, Brazil 3
- Sept. 9, 2009 - Paraguay 1, Argentina 0
- Oct. 10, 2009 - Argentina 2, Peru 1
- Oct. 14, 2009 - Uruguay 0, Argentina 1
- Number of World Cup appearances: 14
- All-time record: 65 games played, 33 wins, 13 draws, 19 losses
- Goals for: 113
- Goals against: 74
- Biggest victory: 6-0 vs. Peru in 1978 and 6-0 vs. Serbia in 2006
- Biggest defeat: 6-1 vs. Czechoslovakia in 1958
- Overall top scorer: Gabriel Batistuta (10 goals)
- Most appearances: Diego Maradona (21 matches)
- Hosted the World Cup: 1978
World Cup track record
- 1930 - Runners-up
- 1934 - First round
- 1938 to 1954 - Did not enter
- 1958 - First round
- 1962 - First round
- 1966 - Quarter-finals
- 1970 - Did not qualify
- 1974 - Second round
- 1978 - CHAMPIONS
- 1982 - Quarter-finals
- 1986 - CHAMPIONS
- 1990 - Runners-up
- 1994 - Second round
- 1998 - Quarter-finals
- 2002 - First round
- 2006 - Quarter-finals
- FIFA member since: 1912
- Team nickname: Albicelestes
- All-time caps leader: Javier Zanetti (136)
- All-time leading scorer: Gabriel Batistuta (56 goals)
- Copa America Champions: 1921, 1925, 1927, 1929, 1937, 1941, 1945, 1946, 1947, 1955, 1957, 1959, 1991, 1993
- Under-20 World Champions: 1979, 1995, 1997, 2001, 2005, 2007
- South American Youth Champions: 1967, 1997, 1999, 2003
- Confederations Cup Champions: 1992
- Olympic Gold Medal: 2004, 2008
- Olympic Silver Medal: 1928, 1996
- Diego Maradona: Considered by many as the greatest ever to play the game, Diego Maradona led Argentina to World Cup glory in 1986 with five goals. Twice voted South American player of the year (1979 and 1980), he made his international debut for Argentina at age 16. He is one of the most famous athletes of the 20th century.
- Mario Kempes: He finished the 1978 World Cup as top scorer with six goals, including two in the finals against the Netherlands to help Argentina win its first World Cup. Nicknamed El Matador, Kempes won back-to-back Spanish league scoring titles with Valencia (1976-77, 1977-78) and scored 20 goals in 43 games for Argentina.