Just like Diego Maradona did in 1986, crowds of Argentina fans are hoping that one man in particular can secure World Cup success once again. But can Lionel Messi finally deliver on an international stage and lead his team to victory in Brazil this summer? Christopher Davies finds out…
In the coming months, millions of people across the globe will be enjoying a feast of football as Brazil plays host to the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Even though the sport’s biggest event is always a momentous occasion, both pundits and fans alike are eagerly anticipating the forthcoming tournament due to its historic, vibrant and passionate location. Having won the World Cup five times, Brazil are the most successful team in the competition’s history. Therefore, it is no surprise that the nation eats, sleeps and breathes football.
However, across the border, Argentina has an extremely close relationship with the World Cup and arguably loves football just as much. What’s more, La Albiceleste (The White and Sky Blue) is one of the favourites to lift the 18 carat gold trophy when the tournament concludes on 13th July. With the press and bookmakers heavily backing the team to succeed in addition to an expectant population, can Argentina end its 28-year wait to win the FIFA World Cup once again?
Apart from hosts Brazil, every team needs to qualify if they want to play at the World Cup. Despite a first ever defeat to Venezuela in the early stages, Argentina did not lose another game until the last round of matches and ended up winning the South American qualifying group. Along the way, some high scoring victories against strong opposition including Uruguay, Chile and Ecuador raised the nation’s confidence for similar outcomes in Brazil.
Regardless of these impressive results, Argentina was hoping for a favourable group at the World Cup final draw in December. Thankfully, the footballing gods were looking down on manager Alejandro Sabella and his team that day, as Argentina were drawn against Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iran and Nigeria, a relatively straightforward group. Sabella said it was “a positive draw” while Buenos Aires daily La Nación went with the headline “Argentina got lucky.” While there are no easy matches in any World Cup, most Argentinians will already be looking at the knockout stages where harder opponents inevitably await.
When it comes to these ‘all or nothing’ games, attention will surely be focused on Argentina’s unparalleled talisman – Lionel Messi. The 26-year old from Rosario has enjoyed incomparable success in recent years at Spanish giants Barcelona. During his time at the Nou Camp, Messi has claimed six La Liga titles, two Copa del Rey cups and three UEFA Champions League winners’ medals. On top of this, he won FIFA’s prestigious Ballon d’Or (formerly World Player of the Year) award four years in a row from 2009 to 2012.
Despite this club and individual success, he has failed to live up to such tremendous hype at international level. Many people believe that if Argentina succeeds at this year’s World Cup, it will be down to Lionel Messi. In fact, comparisons are being drawn to the nation’s most recent triumph in 1986, where a certain Diego Maradona won the tournament almost single handily. While Argentina have a much stronger squad this time around and Messi is arguably emulating Maradona’s momentous feats, the great man himself has insisted that his protégé should not be held responsible should any World Cup dream not become a reality. “The one thing that I can say is that if we do not win the World Cup, we should not blame Messi for it,” said Maradona on Argentine television recently.
Therefore, other squad members will have to shoulder some responsibility as well. Thankfully for Argentina, talent, flair and ability is in abundance. Manchester City forward Sergio Agüero, who at the turn of 2014 had scored 19 goals in 20 league appearances for the Premier League team, will join Messi in attack. Napoli striker Gonzalo Higuaín also has an impressive track record of hitting the back of the net, as his 21 goals in 35 appearances for the national team prove. Supporting these goal scorers will be Angel Di Maria, as the hard-working Real Madrid wide man will be the one who creates opportunities and provides assists. This group of players has even earned the nickname Los Cuatro Fantasticos or the Fantastic Four.
If Argentina does have a weakness, it will be in defence. Despite having experienced cover in the form of Javier Macherano and Fernando Gago, who have a combined total of over 140 appearances, goalkeeper Sergio Romero doesn’t play regularly for club Monaco while Sabella’s first-choice back four are susceptible to leaking a few goals. Nevertheless, with so much firepower and the best player in the world on their side, few would be bold enough to bet against Argentina.
Where to watch the World Cup
Even if you can’t make it to Brazil this year, you can join in with the tension, tears and tantrums by catching the biggest football matches at these sports bars:
Believe Irish Pub,
The Black Sheep,
Aristides bars: The busiest bar street, just wander down the road near game time and you’ll see the most popular picks of the game.
Watching a game in Argentina
Whether you are a football fan or not, attending a game in South America is a quite remarkable experience that doesn’t really compare to anywhere else in the world. You will be surrounded by passionate supporters, constant noise, lots of colour and even smoke from the smuggled in flairs.
If this all sounds a bit daunting and you’d prefer to attend a game in Mendoza with local fans that know how things work, help is at hand. Viví el fútbol en Mendoza operates tours to every home game of Godoy Cruz, the biggest team in town who play in the Argentine first division.
After meeting at the gates of Parque San Martín you will meet your fellow ‘Bodeguero’ fans, have an introductory talk, be given a free beer and make your way to the stadium. Local English-speaking guides know all about football and the team, so feel free to ask any questions. On your way to Estadio Malvinas Argentinas the atmosphere builds. You’ll be joined by more and more supporters chanting club songs, which if you speak Spanish might come as quite a shock. There is even a chance to enjoy typical football feed at one of the many choripán stalls. Here you can leave valuables in safe hands, as any objects that could potentially be thrown on to the pitch may be confiscated.
After passing through a couple of security checks, you’ll make your way to the section of diehard followers behind one of the goals. Be prepared to jump, shout and sing, as conductor-like fans face the crowd and encourage as much support as possible. By the end of the match, you’ll have no doubt become a Godoy Cruz fan for life.
Visit http://vivimza.com/ to book tickets or discover other Mendoza tours. Tickets generally cost between 180-260 pesos.