After he took over from Alfio ‘Coco’ Basile as coach of the Argentine national squad, Maradona has tinkered a lot with the team, trying out over 100 players in less than 18 months.
Finally, here are the Argentines, at the world cup, with a team that’s top heavy in attack. Maradona has invested his confidence in Messi, who has yet to replicate his club form while playing for his country. In fact, Tevez and Aguero have proved the more reliable strikers.
Diego Milito and Gonzalo Higuain are a couple of other names that will be better known before this World Cup is over. Ange Di Maria, the Benfica winger is another.
Nigeria’s best performance at the World Cup was an entry into the round of 16, in 1994 and 1998. Since the 90s, however, they have lost consistency. Coincidentally, Argentina and Greece were Nigeria’s group rivals in 1994, as well.
A loss to Argentina on Saturday would be much tougher to bear than 16 years ago, as Greece are much tougher, now, with the Euro 2004 title to show for it. A draw would qualify as a win for Nigeria, however improbable the Argentines might consider it.
Joseph Yobo and Taiwo are a huge physical presence in the Nigerian defence. Dickson Etuhu is another physical giant in midfield, while Odemwingie and Kalu Uche are pacy wingers looking to feed Yakubu, Martins, Victor Obinna and Chinedu Obasi who should fancy their chances against the Argentine centre-backs, Martin Demichelis and Walter Samuel, definitely the weakest links in the South American squad.
What Nigeria lack in technique, they make up in strength and pace. Yakubu’s dribbling skills could also stand them in good stead as they try and break the Argentine defence.
That was the good news for Nigeria. Now, for the bad. The defenders while strong and robust are unlikely to stand up to the Argentine attack, who will look to trouble the scorers as often as they can.
In good news for Argentina, none of the players have injury concerns, ahead of the match against Nigeria. The team have gone through their paces, and have had two practice matches in the last week leading up to the event.
In bad news for Nigeria, they will not have the services Chelsea midfielder Mikel John Obi, sidelined by injury. Etuhu will have his hands full filling in for Obi. How well Etuhu handles Messi could decide the course of this match.
Argentina’s probable starting eleven: Romero, Gutierrez, Samuel, Demichelis, Heinze, Mascherano, Veron, di Maria; Messi, Tevez, Higuain
Nigeria’s probable starting eleven: Enyeama, Odiah, Yobo, Shittu, Taiwo,Etuhu, Haruna, Kaita, Odemwingie, Obinna, Yakubu