GROUP F
Argentina

THE 60-SECOND OVERVIEW

Argentina have managed a full-blown resurrection under Alejandro Sabella over the last two years. The team has found a consistent style and Leo Messi – jeered by his own fans in 2011 – finally seems comfortable with a tactical system that sees his partners Aguero, Higuain and Di Maria always close by.

The challenge of winning in Brazil is motivation enough for Leo, who is now playing his third World Cup, but who failed to score in the five games played in South Africa 2010. Will the best attack on the planet be enough to disguise the defensive problems evident in the qualifiers?

THE DREAM

There’s nothing more inspiring for an Argentine than the chance of winning in Brazil, and pulling off their own hilarious version of the Maracanazo Uruguay pulled off in 1950. After the World Cup draw, that dream became even more real: should Argentina and Brazil win their respective groups, they won’t be able to meet before the final.

Their last World Cup clash was at Italia 90: Argentina were outplayed by a better Brazil side, but Maradona and Claudio Caniggia sent them home with a glorious counter-attacking move. That’s what Sabella’s Argentina does best, too. The dream of winning is so delightful, the Government is even said to be waiting for a victory to announce a massive tax raise…

THE NIGHTMARE

The Germans. Don’t even mention them in the Argentinian camp: the last two World Cups ended too soon for la Seleccion, and in both cases they were beaten by their European nemesis in the quarters. In 2006 they lost on penalties (at 1-0 up, it had appeared that Argentina had the game under control); in 2010, it was an embarassing 4-0 pasting.

The last two finals Argentina played were also against the Teutons: in 1986, they won (3-2, although West Germany equalised after being 0-2 down) while in 1990, they were beaten 1-0. Avoid Jogi Löw’s men – they could meet in the quarters or, if both teams finish either top or second in the group, the final itself – and half the job is done, psychologically...

THE STATS
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PLAYER MOST LIKELY TO...

PUNCH A TEAMMATE: AGUSTIN ORION

Boca’s keeper recently biffed midfielder Pablo Ledesma one, after his compatriot suggested Orion was leaking dressing-room details to the press. The stopper had to train with a bandaged hand for two days.

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MISS THE NATIONAL ANTHEM: LEO MESSI

The captain still struggles with the Himno Nacional Argentino. Years ago he was caught on camera mumbling vaguely – and Leo still receive texts from his teammates reminding him of the lyrics.

PLAYER MOST LIKELY TO...

HAUNT THE SIDE FROM THE STANDS: CARLOS TEVEZ

The Juventus striker failed to make the squad - but his name will be sung if Argentina don’t do well. His most recent season in Italy made him a fans’ favourite again – a feeling apparently not shared by the dressing room.

DID YOU KNOW?

Argentina managed to spoil Brazil’s party AT The 1964 Cup of Nations. they beat Portugal 2-0, sneaked past England (1-0 in Rio), then thrashed Brazil – Pelé and all – 3-0 in Sao Paulo.

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With fearsome weaponry up front – so much so that Tevez stayed at home – Argentina can take the fight in the home of their greatest rivals.