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Argentina’s World Cup squad falls into place
After the century of call-ups and largely meaningless tests against mediocre opposition in friendlies, not to mention the lack of direction in the qualifiers, talent and form look set to win out in the race for places in Argentina’s World Cup squad.
Most if not all 20 of the players picked by Diego Maradona for the warm-up against Germany in Munich on March 3 would appear to have booked their ticket to Argentina’s Pretoria World Cup base in June.
Of the wide range of players considered in the Argentine league, only experienced defender Clemente Rodriguez and Juan Sebastian Veron of South American champions Estudiantes and Velez Sarsfield centre-back Nicolas Otamendi are in the friendly squad.
So, given that the World Cup squad will probably have no surprises, perhaps a team can emerge capable of mounting a decent challenge for Argentina’s third world title.
But there are several key questions Maradona needs to address, notably in midfield.
At the back, having apparently discarded 136-cap Javier Zanetti and Pablo Zabaleta, he has a good right back in Rodriguez and his Estudiantes team mate Marcos Angeleri, who damaged knee ligaments early last year, may recapture the form that earned him a call-up.
On the left, Maradona would appear to be happy with Gabriel Heinze, who is also a reserve centre back. But Argentina need another option at left back. Will Emiliano Papa of Velez Sarsfield, Luciano Monzon of Boca Juniors or Liverpool’s Emiliano Insua sneak in the back door?
Who is Veron’s reserve in creating play? It could be Javier Pastore of Palermo. Maradona called up Pablo Aimar for the last qualifiers against Peru and Uruguay but he is not in the squad for the Germany match.
The central midfielders are Javier Mascherano, Mario Bolatti, Veron and Pastore, the wings Jonas Gutierrez, Angel Di Maria and Jesus Datolo.
It looks like Esteban Cambiasso and Fernando Gago have been discarded yet there is also no real cover for Mascherano in the ball-winning role.
Fiorentina’s Bolatti, who like Pastore emerged in Angel Cappa’s brilliant Huracan side in the Clausura championship in the first half of last year, is a fine central midfielder and distributor of play but not an enforcer.
On the wings, Maxi Rodriguez and Lucho Gonzalez were also serious candidates.
Up front, there are goals galore in the strikers former coach Alfio Basile called “the little ones”, Lionel Messi, Carlos Tevez and Sergio Aguero, plus Gonzalo Higuain and Diego Milito. They must come good after scoring only 10 of Argentina’s 23 goals between them in 18 qualifying matches.
Maradona would not at first sight appear to need Martin Palermo yet he has promised him 80 percent certainty of a place in South Africa and a tall target man may be very handy in a squad with little height up front, which is why there were calls for Hernan Crespo to return last year.
PHOTO: Argentina’s Martin Palermo celebrates his goal against Jamaica during their friendly soccer match in Mar del Plata, February 10, 2010. REUTERS/Marcos Brindicci