A strong contender

Latin America’s dominance is all too evident, as players from the region have often been the bulwarks of club sides across the world. Uruguay, Brazil and Argentina have accounted for nine of the 19 World Cup trophies, winning all seven in the American continent.

In Brazil 2014 too, the three start as strong title contenders and will want to translate their on-paper pedigree into on-field success. Argentina, which has failed to get past the quarterfinal stage since its final appearance in Italia 90, will want to shake off its recent mediocre showing in the quadrennial event. Former Sheffield United midfielder Alejandro Sabella, who took over from Sergio Batista as the manager after a poor showing at home in the 2011 Copa America, has been more pragmatic in his approach, rightly trying to formulate a system that will optimise the output from Lionel Messi.

With a 4-3-3 system, Sabella will allow his skipper a free role (almost similar to his false No. 9 role in Barcelona, though he operates a little deeper in Argentine colours) in the middle of a front three with Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero and Napoli’s Gonzalo Higuain flanking him on the left and the right respectively.

The manager has accounted for the lack of Barcelona-like creativity in his midfield and has stressed on speed on the counter, rather than blindly trying to replicate the slow, intricate-passing Barca style of play. Angel Di Maria, who had an excellent season with Real Madrid, plays as the carrielro (a player who shuttles up and down the flanks) on the left — often overlapping Aguero, who habitually drifts inside — effectively making it a four-man forward line when the team is on the ascendancy.

The midfield regista (deep-lying playmaker), Fernando Gago — probably the second most important player in the team after Messi — will dictate the tempo, playing the early aerial diagonal balls to Di Maria and Higuain on the wings.

The attacking style of the team will hold it in good stead against the relatively lightweight opponents in the group stage, but tougher knockout games will test the skills of the fragile Argentine back four.

Benfica’s Ezequiel Garay is expected to partner either Federico Fernandez (Napoli) or Martin Demichelis (Manchester City), both aging and slow, at the centre of defence while Pablo Zabaleta (Manchester City) and Marcos Rojo (Sporting Lisbon) will play wider as the wingbacks.

The quarterback, Javier Mascherano, the only tough tackling midfielder in the team, will have the added responsibility of shielding his defence.

Despite the presence of Messi and the surrounding attacking ensemble, Argentina doesn’t appear to be a well-rounded squad, with no like-for-like replacement for important players such as Gago and Mascherano. The team, however, will still fancy its chances of making it to the business end of the tournament with Messi leading the show.