Why Lionel Messi’s Argentina Are The Team To Beat In Brazil


Mercifully, it’s been a long, long time since I’ve had to concern myself with algebraic formulas, but I did spot this week that boffins at Stirling University had come up with a complex prediction model for the 2014 World Cup.

Taking into account all sorts of incomprehensible variables and statistics, the Scottish clever clogs revealed with pride that host nation Brazil are the most likely winners.

That’s interesting I thought; until later in the piece I discovered that courtesy of the same number crunching, Scotland would have reached the last eight had they reached the finals instead of Croatia. Hmmm.

My own predictive method is much simpler. I go with what I see with my own eyes, what I know about football, and what I can remember from previous tournaments. And with this in mind, Argentina is my tip for glory on July 13.

Unlike his predecessors Diego Maradona and Sergio Batista, current manager (and Sheffield United cult hero) Alejandro Sabella has built a nice, solid framework for success. And that’s crucial.

Essentially that means having balance, togetherness, a reliable pattern of play, and a level of organisation that’s capable of standing up to rigorous tests. World Cup winners, despite the goals they score, always have it in abundance.

Not sure about that? France, Brazil, Italy and Spain, the last four winners, conceded a grand total of three (yes, three) goals in the knockout stages between them. In 2010, Del Bosque’s men weren’t breached at all, while the rest shipped just one goal each from the end of the group stage onwards. Being solid pays off.

Can the all-star Albicelestes be compact enough to replicate those achievements?

Right now we just don’t know. What is apparent is that despite having a squad full of superstars, Sabella isn’t afraid to drill his players hard. Plus, thanks to a consistent 4-3-3 tactical approach – and very few changes to his preferred starting XI – Argentina have kept five successive clean sheets in the run up to the World Cup.

The midfield also has outstanding balance. Javier Mascherano will sit deepest and play the role of defensive enforcer, playmaker Fernando Gago will look to pick out the front three with pinpoint passes short and long, while the effervescent Angel di Maria will run and run and run, continually making their transition from defence to attack appear smooth and seamless.

The Real Madrid magician’s ability to drift outside as a left winger, also nicely balances out the raids of Pablo Zabaleta on the other flank, while simultaneously allowing Gonzalo Higuain, Sergio Aguero and Lionel Messi to come inside and do their damage more centrally.

Captaining the side at 26, the world’s best footballer Lionel Messi, is surely ready to seize the moment too.

Until now he may not have been revered by fans in his own country in quite the same way they adored Diego Maradona - and he’s yet to show the Argentine people what he’s capable of at a World Cup Finals - but since being named skipper by Sabella, the little maestro has dispelled the myth that he’s not as good in the blue and white stripes. In 19 international appearances since the start of 2012, Messi has scored 19 goals.

With their genius number 10 playing as a false striker with Higuain and Aguero around and ahead of him, the two-time winners are a counter attacking dream. With this kind of talent in the side (and other forwards like Ezequiel Lavezzi and Rodrigo Palacio to come off the bench), should Sabella’s men fail, it’s unlikely to be down to a lack of goals. Imagine trying to contain them?

On the day the competition begins, you can make handy claims for all the big guns.  Given the control they assert, Spain has a great chance to land a fourth consecutive major tournament; while Germany, even without the talented Marco Reus, boast a terrific framework, experience, class and energy.

Host nation Brazil, aren’t just popular with the scientists either. They have a manager that’s done it before, a gifted hero in waiting, and that all-important solid base too. A sixth title is definitely possible on home soil.

The bookmakers have it right. Between them, there’s very little to separate the four clear favourites. But what Argentina have that the others don’t, is Lionel Messi – and you don’t need to be a boffin to know that could be the decisive factor.

Bet on Argentina vs Bosnia now.