Despite obvious frailties, Argentina look well placed to win football’s ultimate prize at the home of their great South American rivals.
Argentina head into this summer’s World Cup having qualified with relative ease, finishing top of the South American qualifying. They will be second favourites behind hosts Brazil, with Spain and Germany also expected to challenge for the trophy.
While Spain don’t look like the force they once were, Germany lack a top-class striker and have been vulnerable in defence in big games, Luiz Felipe Scolari’s side lack the flair of previous Brazil teams, but they will grind out wins and are justifiably the favourites.
However, Argentina could spoil Brazil’s party. The front three of Lionel Messi, Gonzalo Higuain and Sergio Aguero are probably the best forward line in international football. Coming off the back of a magnificent season at Real Madrid, Angel di Maria is also a key player, providing a link between midfield and attack in a 4-3-3 formation.
However, the Albiceleste supporters will have concerns about their backline. Goalkeeper Sergio Romero cannot get a game for Monaco, while centre-back Federico Fernandez and left-back Marcos Rojo both appear to be weak links that the best teams in the tournament will look to exploit. The defence will need protecting by Javier Mascherano in the holding midfielder’s role.
Off the pitch, though, things couldn’t have worked out much better for Alejandro Sabella’s men. They have been drawn in one of the kinder groups alongside Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iran and Nigeria. The draw also handed them an easier travel schedule than most, with all three group games for Argentina taking place in the southern part of Brazil, avoiding the extensive journeys some teams face and also the searing heat in Manaus.
Perhaps what gives Argentina the best hope of winning their third World Cup is the resurgence of Messi on the international stage. The 26-year-old failed to score in the last World Cup despite being on form with Barcelona and only netted once in the 2006 tournament. This and his overall international goal return in comparison to his Barcelona numbers caused some suspicion over whether Messi could perform at the same level for his country as he has for his club.
In his first 55 appearances for Argentina between 2005 and 2010, Messi managed 15 goals a rate of a goal every 3.6 appearances, well below his overall Barcelona record of 342 goals in 406 appearances - a rate of one goal every 1.18 appearances.
However, Messi has shown signs of his Barcelona form for Argentina since 2011, scoring 19 goals in his last 29 appearances. After a disappointing season with Barcelona and a poor 2010 World Cup, the four-time Ballon d’Or winner might feel that he has a point to prove.
With Messi playing in a team built around him and with an extremely strong supporting cast to back him up, it would take a brave man to bet against the Barcelona star lifting the trophy at the Maracana on July 13.