The waiting is finally over, this Saturday, Argentina’s campaign to capture a third World Cup trophy begins against the Super Eagles of Nigeria. With Diego Maradona in charge preparations have naturally been controversial, his 23 man squad proving the subject of much debate. However such discussions are now irrelevant, as all eyes turn to the Elis Park Stadium in Johannesburg, where eleven men in blue and white stripes will carry the hopes of a nation.
When it comes to their opening game, Argentina have a relatively strong record of nine wins and five defeats. Four of these victories coming in straight succession since 1994. This will be the fourth time La Albiceleste have opened a World Cup against African opposition, having defated Nigeria in 2002 and the Ivory Coast in 2006, as well as suffering a shock defeat to Cameroon in 1990.
Argentina and Nigeria have locked horns just three times in the past and history certainly favours La Albiceleste, who possess a record of two wins, one draw and zero defeats. Two of these fixtures have occurred at the World Cup itself. In 1994 a Claudio Canaggia brace allowed Argentina to come from behind to defeat the Africans by two goals to one in the second game of the group stages. Eight years latter, a Gabriel Batistuta header was enough to secure a 1-0 victory in La Albiceleste’s opening game of the 2002 finals.
Lionel Messi, Javier Mascherano, Sergio Augero and several other members of the Argentinian squad, also faced Nigeria in the final of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Once again La Selección came out on top, securing the gold medal through a 1-0 victory courtesy of an Angel Di Maria goal.
Di Maria helps Argentina go gold.
Attempting to predict the actions of a manager as erratic as Maradona is something of a fools errand, but we can attempt to forecast his starting eleven with a reasonable degree of confidence. Sergio Romero will be in goal behind centre backs Walter Samuel, Martin Demichelis and left back Gabriel Heinze. The right back position will be filled by either Jonas Gutierrez or Nicolas Otamendi. Should Gutierrez be selected, as he was in the recent friendly with Canada, Lionel Messi will drop back towards the midfield in a free role, allowing Carlos Tevez to partner Gonzalo Higuain in attack.
Guiterrez may start at right back.
Javier Mascherano and Juan Veron are the undisputed first choice partnership in central midfield and Di Maria will likely start on the left. Should he need them Maradona can summon the likes of Diego Milito, Sergio Aguero and Maxi Rodriguez from the bench.
Argentina should underestimate Nigeria at their peril, as like many African nations, the Super Eagles possess a blend of power and pace which has the potential to trouble any team. Furthermore, their squad is mainly composed of stars playing across Europe’s top leagues. In attack the sheer speed of Obafemi Martins could be problematic and the same can be said of Hoffenheim’s Chinedu Obasi, who was one of the few bright sparks in Nigeria’s disappointing Nations Cup showing earlier this year. It should also be noted that the Super Eagles are managed by Lars Lagerback, whose Sweden side consigned Argentina to a humiliating group stage exit in 2002.
Ofabemi Martins’ blistering pace is a dangerous weapon
However, the Super Eagles are missing star man John Obi Mikel, after the Chelsea midfielder was forced to withdraw from the squad through injury. Despite being a holding midfielder by trade, Mikel has been fulfilling the role of play maker while on international duty and his absence leaves a noticeable vacuum in the creative department.
Argentina are strong favourites with odds no longer then 1/2, while Nigeria’s chances are rated as no better then 6/1. More info can be found here http://www.oddschecker.com/football/internationals/world-cup/argentina-v-nigeria/win-market.
Argentina have never lost to Nigeria and I expect Saturday to be no exception. The Super Eagles pace could worry the Argentinian defence, but without any genuinely creative players, they may struggle to retain possession against a side as technically gifted as La Selección . Furthermore the flair, ingenuity and fire power of Messi, Higuain and Tevez should be too much for the Nigerian defence to handle, giving Argentina a 3-1 victory.