Fearsom attack is finely balanced
15 June ~ Great expectations follow the Argentina team as they prepare for their 2014 World Cup debut against Bosnia. After the hosts, the Albiceleste have been tipped as one of the favourites, a confidence that is primarily based on the outrageous strength in attack possessed by coach Alejandro Sabella. The quartet of Lionel Messi, Gonzalo Higuaín, Ángel Di Maria and Sergio Agüero has been vital to the side's form over the last three years, and key to an approach based on rapid counter-attack. Messi is of course the talisman of the team; but the loss of any of the four can unbalance Argentina.
For that reason, in the days leading up to their World Cup debut most of the talk has been focused on whether "Pipita" Higuaín can recover in time to take the field in the Maracanã. The Napoli striker is recovering from an ankle injury and did not take part in either of the final two pre-tournament friendlies – comfortable wins against Trinidad and Slovenia – with Ezequiel Lavezzi of PSG deputising for him in training throughout the week.
The other big question concerns the back four. With the squad's best central defender Ezequiel Garay having also been laid low with a niggling ankle complaint, Argentina have had little time to prepare with their first-choice line-up. Garay's assurance is badly needed alongside his more limited partner Federico Fernández if the team are to consolidate the defensive improvements made over the past year.
Sergio Romero, meanwhile, remains the great enigma in goal. Brilliant at times, distracted and error-prone at others, he needs to prove Sabella was right to pick a Monaco reserve – he made only three league appearances last season – over the likes of Willy Caballero of Malaga, one of the best keepers in La Liga but still uncapped by Argentina.
Nevertheless, Sabella's men are favourites to kick off their World Cup campaign with a win. Brazil's toiling victory over Croatia should serve as a warning of the dangers presented by a physical, hard-marking team, and Bosnia are expected to show many of the same attributes, added to the exceptional talents of Edin Dzeko up front. But if that fearsome Argentinian forward line can click into gear straight away, and the much-questioned defence continues to grow as a unit, today's game should be a comfortable start for the two-time winners. Daniel Edwards