The year was 1986. Over a 100,000 people had gathered at the Estadio Azteca in Mexico to witness one of the most historic FIFA World Cup finals.
It was a competition which the magician Diego Maradona made his own by leading Argentina to a spectacular victory over West Germany in the final. Although this was the Albiceleste’s second World Cup triumph, it became an immortal event in the history of Argentinian football mainly due to the legendary performance and immaculate leadership of Maradona.
However, history didn’t repeat itself for Argentina in the tournament’s subsequent editions. Maradona again led his side to the finals of the 1990 World Cup in Italy, but his form suffered due to an ankle injury and he was unable to guide his team to a second successive World Cup triumph.
The 1994 World Cup was to be Maradona’s swansong, as his prolific career ended on a sad note after he was tested positive for ephedrine doping.
Since then, Argentina have struggled to keep up with the legacy left behind by Maradona in the World Cup. Surprisingly, the former champions haven’t even reached a World Cup final since 1990. They couldn’t get past the quarter-finals stage in the last two World Cups hosted in South Africa and Germany.
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One of the biggest challenges of Alejandro Sabella’s team in the tournament’s current edition will be to end the 28-year old trophy drought which continues to irk Argentina’s fans and followers. Their star-studded team which boasts of names like Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero and Pablo Zabaleta will be one of the favourites to qualify for the finals, but these players will have to replicate their club form with the national team to inch closer to World Cup glory. Furthermore, they will have the arduous task of beating Brazil, if they meet, in their own backyard.
Lionel Messi: Aged 27, Lionel Messi has already established himself as one of the greatest players in the history of football. His stature and playing style has often been compared to former great Diego Maradona, who led Argentina to victory in the 1986 World Cup.
Messi recently became the world’s highest paid footballer after signing an improved contract with his club Barcelona FC. This was not a huge surprise for his supporters, as the Argentine’s impeccable record for Barcelona has taken the Spanish club to dizzying heights of success and popularity. Earlier this year, he overtook Paulino Alcantara as Barcelona’s all time top-goal-scorer with a tally of 370 goals.
At 1.69 m, Messi does not possess a tall and imposing stature, but his agility and blistering pace make him an exceptional opponent on the field. He could be even considered as the ‘Little Master’ of football.
Messi possesses a multi-faceted playing style. One of the best features in his style of play is his remarkable ability to control the ball when dribbling at brisk pace. He hardly lets the ball leave his possession. This astute quality provides him the confidence to take solitary dribbling runs towards the goal. However, Messi is not simply renowned for scoring goals through his matchless running and dribbling abilities. He is also a visionary player who loves to create scoring chances for his teammates through his extraordinary passing.
There is no doubt that Messi will be one of the most watched players in this edition of the World Cup and he will also have the additional responsibility of improving his record with the national team. But his most important role will be to lead his team to glory by bringing home the World Cup after 28 years.
Angel Di Maria: Lionel Messi will surely play the anchor in his team’s attack during the World Cup, but he will require 26-year-old Angel di Maria’s impressive skills in the midfield to create momentum. Di Maria made a wonderful transition from the role of a winger to the central playmaker under Carlo Ancelloti at Real Madrid. His exceptional speed and precision make him a dangerous attacking midfielder.
Like Messi, Di Maria also likes to hold on to the ball and often plays it off the ground. He is also renowned for his passing skills and assists. Given his recent form for Real Madrid in the Champions League, it is likely that Di Maria will play an integral role in Argentina’s World Cup campaign.
Pablo Zabaleta: Aged 29, Zabaleta is one of the most experienced players in Argentina’s World Cup squad. He plays as a full-back but can also assume the position of wing-back.
The Manchester City player possesses an attacking style of play, but he has also performed well as a defensive midfielder. His tackling skills are considered one of the best in the game. Moreover, his ability to execute key passes in crunch situations enable him to make inroads into the opposition.
His versatility and deft understanding of the game make him a prized possession in any international team and Argentina are truly blessed to have him among their ranks for the World Cup.