Backline takes centrestage

Argentina throws a surprise by including defender Demichelis hoping to strike balance in a forward-heavy side.

By: Reuters | Buenos Aires | Updated: May 15, 2014 5:39 pm
Discarded soccer boots hang from an electric wire where they were thrown by their owners over several months after Sunday “pelada”matches in the Morro do Papagaio favela in Belo Horizonte, a World Cup host city. ( Source: Reuters ) Discarded soccer boots hang from an electric wire where they were thrown by their owners after “pelada”matches in the Morro do Papagaio favela in Belo Horizonte. (Reuters)

Central defender Martin Demichelis, a Premier League winner with Manchester City in his first season in England, earned a surprise call-up on Tuesday to Argentina’s provisional 30-man World Cup squad.

However, there was no last-minute surprise place for Juventus striker Carlos Tevez, who has never been in coach Alejandro Sabella’s plans despite his fine form in Serie A. Demichelis, a veteran of the 2010 finals, had not been called up by Sabella since being dropped after a 1-1 draw at home to Bolivia in a South American qualifier in November 2011.

The 33-year-old, who has 37 caps, put behind him a poor Champions League last-16 performance against Barcelona in February, when he conceded a penalty and was sent off, to secure his place in the centre of the City defence in the title run-in. Sabella, whose team have often looked unbalanced with a brilliant attack and ordinary rearguard, has noted Demichelis’s recent form as he looks to improve his defence for Argentina’s tilt at a third World Cup triumph in Brazil.

Another surprise call-up is Catania midfielder Fabian Rinaudo, who won one of his four caps under Sabella in 2011, and is regarded as cover in case regular midfielders Fernando Gago or Augusto Fernandez fail to recover from injury in time to be included in the definitive squad on June 2.

Right back Gabriel Mercado has earned a chance thanks to his performances for River Plate, who can lift the Argentine league title this weekend.

Racing to be fit

Sabella named Gago of Boca Juniors, Fernandez of Celta Vigo and Real Madrid’s Angel Di Maria who all hope to be fit in time for the tournament in Brazil starting on June 12 in which Argentina face Iran, Bosnia and Nigeria in Group F.

Di Maria is fighting to be fit for Real’s Champions League final against Atletico Madrid on May 24. Werder Bremen’s Franco Di Santo has been given a chance to stake a claim for a spot in Sabella’s star-studded strike force featuring Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain.

50-50 Falcao makes cut

Meanwhile, Radamel Falcao, who is recovering from left-knee surgery, was named Tuesday in Colombia’s preliminary 30-man squad for the World Cup. Coach Jose Pekerman has until June 2 to name the final 23-man squad. Falcao has been sidelined since January. If he recovers in time —surgeons initially gave him a 50-50 chance — Colombia could be one of the real threats in the World Cup.

“I am getting better and I’m very happy with how the knee is reacting,” Falcao wrote this week on social media.

Socceroos focus on wc ‘18

Australia coach Ange Postecoglou was true to his word in picking a youthful 30-man Socceroos preliminary squad for the World Cup finals on Wednesday. The head coach unveiled what will be one of the least experienced squads in Brazil.

Australia faces defending champion Spain, 2010 finalist Netherlands and Chile in a tough Group B and has been given little chance of advancing to the knockout stage. Hours before the squad was announced, former Socceroos captain Paul Wade predicted they would get “hammered.’’

With an average age around 23 and bereft of a number of veterans who participated in the 2006 and 2010 editions, the Aussies seem to have the 2018 World Cup as more of a focus than the one immediately ahead in Brazil next month.

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