2014 World Cup Preview: Argentina

Lionel Messi looks dejected as Barcelona lose to Athletico Madrid

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Lionel Messi, a great in his own right, looks to step into the shadow left by Argentine savior Diego Maradona and lead Argentina back to the promised land. But past international failures and revered rivals stand in his way of hoisting the game’s most coveted prize.

Argentina has a rich history of footballing greatness, and another chapter could be added to the country’s legacy this summer. But will Messi finally live up to his potential on the international pitch? Can Messi duplicate Maradona’s impressive feats on the world’s grandest of stages?

Maradona captained the 1986 World Cup squad to glory by having one of the greatest individual performances at a tournament in history by recording five goals and five assists. The 1986 World Cup projected Maradona’s dominance on the pitch, but the tournament was not without controversy as the Argentine great produced both the greatest and most notorious goal in the history of the game in a quarterfinal match against England.

The “Hand of God” goal will forever live in infamy, but as bad as that goal is to most people, Maradona’s next goal made up for it and then some. Maradona carried his team through the quarterfinal match with a stroke of pure brilliance as he dribbled through the entire England team and finished off the play by placing the ball in the back of the net.

Maradona will always be a king in the sport, but before Messi can find his spot at the royal table, he needs to lead the national team on a deep run through the World Cup.

Argentina made easy work of qualifying sitting top of the table in CONMEBOL standings through much of the qualification process, and expectations have only risen since the end of qualifying as the Argentines stand before a very favorable draw.

While Messi is clearly the headliner for this Argentina squad, there are several other players to look out for as Argentina seeks their third World Cup victory. Real Madrid‘s Angel di Maria provides an attacking speed on the wing that is unparalleled and brings big stage experience to a team littered with superstars.

Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain make up on of the best strike tandems in the world. If the team is to go far in the tournament, it will likely be on the backs on these two as both have had better luck in international football than Messi has.

As good as the attack is for this Argentina side, the defense is just as bad. With no consistency in the starting back four and a goalkeeper who does not even start for his club side, Argentina could find themselves in several high-scoring affairs this summer.

With one of the easier draws in the tournament, Argentina should have no trouble dispatching Iran, Nigeria and Bosnia-Herzegovina en route to the knockout stages where the team’s road could get a little more tricky.

Argentina’s defense will have to seemingly reinvent itself if the team is going to be considered among title contenders, but if the defense plays even remotely well, Argentina will be in the running to hoist the trophy at tournament’s end.

La Albiceleste should cruise through to the quarterfinals, but a matchup with either Belgium or Portugal could pose problems for Argentina as the Argentinean defense will be left to be exposed by two high-flying attacks.

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