Lionel Messi wasn’t even a notion when La Albiceleste last lifted the World Cup in 1986. It’s been almost 27 years since Leo’s birth and the Argentine is yet to see his country win that elusive trophy.
For two times in a row, the Argentine brigade was shot down by a spirited German side. In 2010, the deadly combo of Diego Maradona the coach and Messi the player made Argentina the bookmakers’ favourite. But yet again, their campaign came to an abrupt end in the quarterfinals when they were mauled 4-0 by Germany. Can La Pulga get third time lucky?
At Rio, the stage looks set for an Argentine pantomime. Alejandro Sabella’s script has the making of a blockbuster. Messi, unopposed, is the protagonist. It’s around him that the whole play revolves. In Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain and Angel di Maria, he has an ideal support system. While the spotlight hovers around the diminutive 5-foot-7 Atomic Flea, with the added burden of leading the side and carrying the expectations of a million others back home, it is the other three who add zest and stability to the side. Together, they form an inimitable quartet, making the opposition dance to their tunes.
With his primary artists in place, Sabella’s focus shifts on getting his base strengthened. Javier Mascherano and Maxi Rodriguez are there to mind the gaps but it’s the ones behind them that need fine-tuning. Pablo Zabaleta forms the backbone. The Manchester City striker was instrumental in steering his club to a second EPL title and the fullback will look to make it a grand double. It’s the lesser experienced Marcos Rojo and Federico Fernandez who might contribute to Sabella’s grey hairs.
Nevertheless, a football feast can be expected from Sabella’s bandwagon, who are the outright favourites to top the group. It’s the battle of giant versus minnows as the Latin American nation has, by far, one of the easier draws.
Bosnia and Herzegovina are hoping to make a grand debut. Despite being first-timers, they have ample support from the bookies, who are vouching for them to finish second to Argentina. There is no dearth of talent in this squad, and it is their technical ability than coach Safet Susic’s tactics that could see them through. City striker Edin Dzeko, Stuttgart’s Vedad Ibisevic and Roma playmaker Miralem Pjanic will hold key for the Bosnians. Their cavalier approach might backfire but Susic says he is willing to take that risk. “We know that we expose ourselves too much and that there is a huge risk in the way we play — but that is the price we are willing to pay. In the end, we play to score more,” Susic was quoted as saying.
If talent defines the Bosnians, determination symbolises the Nigerian squad. The Super Eagles have been soaring ever since Steven Keshi took over the reins. Their side has undergone an absolute transformation. Having failed to qualify for the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations, they went on the win it the next year, fielding one of their better sides in more than two decades.
While Victor Moses provides the thrust, Emmanuel Emenike adds to the firepower. However, their defence is way too dependent on John Obi Mikel and that could script their downfall.
The side with the minimal chance of progressing is Iran. Their squad lacks the depth and predominantly comprises domestic players. They would be happy to register even one win and improve their World Cup record, which stands at one victory in nine attempts. While skipper Javad Nekounam has the experience, the team hopes to thrive on the ‘Gucci’ effect — the 26-year-old forward Reza Ghoochannejhad.
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