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World Cup 2006 profile

Argentina's greatest enemy is weight of expectations

Posted: Monday January 2, 2006 12:57PM; Updated: Monday May 15, 2006 5:20PM
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Juan Román Riquelme is one of Argentina's biggest stars and is its main playmaker.
Juan Román Riquelme is one of Argentina's biggest stars and is its main playmaker.

By Gregory Sica, SI.com

Over the next four months, SI.com will profile two World Cup teams a week. We start with Argentina. Click here for the full archive.

FIFA world ranking: No. 8.

How they qualified for Germany: Finished 10-4-4 for second place in CONMEBOL qualifying, with the same point total as Brazil but an inferior goal differential.

Previous World Cups: 13 appearances (1930, 1934, 1958, 1962, 1966, 1974, 1978, 1982, 1986, 1990, 1994, 1998 and 2002). Champions in '78 and '86, runners-up in '30, '90.

Manager: José Pekerman, second year with team.

Key players

Classy Juan Román Riquelme is a technically gifted attacking midfielder who has proven to be deadly when given a dead-ball opportunity. Since arriving at Villarreal from Barcelona in 2003, he has become one of the biggest stars in world soccer, mainly because of his awesome vision and his lethal right foot. His outstanding play caught the eye of Pekerman, who chose him over several other big-name stars to fill Argentina's playmaker role.

It's been only recently that 18-year-old Lionel Messi exploded onto the world stage, but after several outstanding displays for Barcelona this season, he has cemented himself in Argentina's strong starting XI. Blessed with majestic dribbling skills, uncanny vision and exhilarating speed the wunderkind is likely to be one of the stars of the tournament. Last year he guided Argentina to the Under-20 World Championship, but will he succeed in translating that success to the senior side?

The greatest talent on the Argentine squad is undoubtedly Carlos Tévez. When "Carlitos" is at his best, his explosive pace can penetrate any defense. When Brazilian giant Corinthians snapped him up for a record $18 million last year, it was unknown whether he would make his mark on rival territory, but Tévez left the Brazilians with open mouths when he led the club to the national championship, winning the MVP award. Tévez's most valuable attribute is his ability to put the ball in the net, but he is more than capable of setting up scoring opportunities for his teammates.

What to watch for

It has become customary to label Argentina as one of the favorites to win the Word Cup -- not just because of the wealth of talent that Pekerman has at his disposal, but also because of tradition. This current squad looks quite different than the one that was effectively knocked out in the group stage by England in '02, and Pekerman is the main reason for this change. The coach has brought in a youthful blend, changing up Argentina's usual reliance on star power. This team's main attraction is its one-touch passing, which cuts through tough defenses with effectiveness. Argentina's main weakness is that there is just too much national pressure on the players to perform, as well as the fact that they lack a mature captain who can assume control when the team is out of ideas.

Group: C (Netherlands, Ivory Coast, Serbia & Montenegro)

Key match in group stage: June 21 vs. Netherlands. This is a traditional classic and a rematch of the '78 World Cup Final. But more recently, the Dutch knocked out the Argentines in '98. Whoever wins this match is likely to win the group.

Oddsmakers' line: 7-1.

Tentative Starting Lineup
Pos. Player Club team
G Roberto Abbondanzieri Boca Juniors (Argentina)
D Roberto Ayala Valencia (Spain)
D Nicolas Burdisso Inter Milan (Italy)
D Fabricio Coloccini Deportivo La Coruńa (Spain)
D Gabriel Heinze Manchester United (England)
M Juan Pablo Sorín Villarreal (Spain)
M Javier Mascherano Corinthians (Brazil)
M Juan Román Riquelme Villarreal (Spain)
M Lionel Messi FC Barcelona (Spain)
F Hernán Crespo Chelsea (England)
F Carlos Tévez Corinthians (Brazil)