Messi's World Cup quest begins
With a star-studded cast alongside him, Barca man could cement his legacy
ARGENTINA v BOSNIA & HERZEGOVINA
(Tomorrow, 6am, SingTel mio TV Ch 14 1& StarHub TV Ch 223)
Lionel Messi will be attempting to cement his legacy as an all-time great when Argentina tackle Bosnia & Herzegovina in their World Cup Group F opener in Rio de Janeiro tomorrow morning (Singapore time).
Trophies, plaudits and individual honours have rained down upon the record-shredding 26-year-old Barcelona sensation over the past few years, but a signature showing at a major international tournament still eludes him.
Although he was a member of the Argentina team that claimed Olympic gold in Beijing in 2008, success in the World Cup and the Copa America has proved harder to come by.
A four-time Ballon d'Or winner and three-time European champion with Barcelona, Messi's devastating ability cannot be questioned, but without success with Argentina, there will always be an asterisk against his achievements.
But while his previous World Cup experiences in 2006 and 2010 proved unfulfilling, there is a feeling that 2014 should be Messi's time.
As an 18-year-old in 2006, he scored once off the bench against Serbia and Montenegro, while in 2010 Diego Maradona's tactics left him overburdened as the sole creative force in an unbalanced 4-1-3-2 formation.
Now, though, he has been given everything he needs to succeed, with coach Alejandro Sabella carefully crafting his team to put Messi in an optimal position to thrive.
Having abandoned attempts to recreate Barcelona's system, Sabella now asks Messi to line up on the right side of an extravagantly gifted three-man frontline, usually alongside Gonzalo Higuain and Sergio Aguero.
With Real Madrid's Angel di Maria, Man of the Match in the Champions League final, also darting forward from midfield, it ensures that Messi is not the sole focus of opposition defenders' attentions, but he rejects any notion that Argentina are a one-man team.
"I don't think the Argentina national team depend on me - far from it," he told FourFourTwo magazine recently.
"We've got a great group of players who can perform to their best and lift the trophy, which is our fundamental objective."
Napoli striker Higuain is a doubt for tomorrow's match at the Maracana with an ankle injury, but Argentina's strength in depth in attacking areas is such that Paris Saint-Germain's Ezequiel Lavezzi is on hand to deputise.
Sabella's defence though is nowhere near as star-studded.
But Benfica centre-back Ezequiel Garay says that the team retain a solid footing nonetheless.
"It's not a weak defence," Garay asserted this week.
"The defence and midfield will have to be compact to do the dirty work together."
But former Argentina midfielder Osvaldo Ardiles is worried about the backline.
"Going forward, Argentina have the best team in the world right now with di Maria, Aguero, Higuain and Messi," he told Tottenham's official website.
"But the team are a little unbalanced and our defence could be our Achilles heel, so we will have to wait and see."- AFP.
Argentina are favourites, not just in our group. They can go a long way in the competition. They have the best player in the world and it will be their chance to win this because it’s in South America.
- Bosnia striker on Edin Dzeko on Argentina and Lionel Messi
Going forward, Argentina have the best team in the world right now with (Angel) di Maria, (Sergio) Aguero, (Gonzalo) Higuain and (Lionel) Messi.
- Former Argentina midfielder Osvaldo Ardiles