Is this to be the World Cup of Lionel Messi? Like it or not, the Argentinian team is overshadowed by the luminous presence of the 5’7 tall genius from Rosario, Argentina. The man widely believed to be the best player ever to play the game must, along with his supporting cast, prove themselves worthy in the 2018 edition of the biggest footballing event on the planet.
Can they do it?
If the measuring stick was the quality of forwards at Jorge Sampaoli’s disposal then it would be an overwhelming yes. Messi himself, Gonzalo Higuaín, Sergio Agüero, Mauro Icardi, and Paulo Dybala headline the options available from the 35-strong provisional World Cup squad. The questions linger at what’s behind them. In Ángel Di María, Éver Banega, and Lucas Biglia, there is recognisable name quality in midfield. At the back, Nicolas Otamendi, Javier Mascherano, Federico Fazio, Marcos Rojo, and Gabriel Mercado jump out on a page. Argentina’s backline screams slow. We also know of Manchester United’s backup goalkeeper, Sergio Romero.
That’s it though. Romero tells us what we need to know about everything south of forwards. Backup. Argentina faces an uphill battle from the offing in a tough group including Nigeria as always, Croatia, and Iceland. We’d like to believe Iceland are walkovers, but they promise to take one scalp from the first round. Croatia is better balanced than Argentina, even though they cannot match the might of Argentina up top. Boasting serviceable attacking players in Ivan Perišić, Mario Mandžukić, Nikola Kalinić, and Andrej Kramarić, Croatia will be quietly confident of toppling Argentina in the group stages. When bolstered by the majestic Luka Modrić, Barcelona man Ivan Rakitić, Real Madrid maestro Mateo Kovačić, and Milan Badelj in midfield, it’s understandable why optimism would reign. They can make anyone look good. At the back, they’re slightly more iffy, but no more than the South Americans.
The first African team to qualify for this year’s spectacle, Nigeria, too have reason to dream with the likes of Wilfred Ndidi, Kelechi Iheanacho, Alex Iwobi, Ahmed Musa, Victor Moses, and Odion Ighalo ranging from exciting young talent with something to prove to experienced heads who could outperform ability in a national team setup. Mikel John Obi isn’t finished yet and will be looking to steer Nigeria to a respectable showing.
It’s no walkover.