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Can Lionel Messi silence any remaining doubters at World Cup 2014?

Written by Sebastien on 03 April 2013. Posted in World Cup Blog

To all but the most cynical of eyes, Lionel Messi has clearly proved himself to be not only the best footballer of his generation, but one who stands comparison to any from yesteryear. However, there is one stick that those few remaining doubters regularly use to beat him with: his failure to lead Argentina to World Cup glory.

It is an injudicious argument when you consider that Messi was little more than a young fringe player during his first World Cup, in 2006, and was then hamstrung during South Africa 2010 World Cup by a woefully unbalanced side whose defensive failings were made patently clear by Germany in the last eight.

It could also be argued that it is the Champions League, a competition in which Messi regularly excels, rather than the World Cup that now represents the pinnacle of the world game.

But if Argentina’s performances over the last year or so are anything to go by, Messi may just have an excellent chance of adding a World Cup winners medal to his glittering array of silverware in Brazil next year - an achievement that would erase any lingering doubts as to his position in the pantheon of the all-time greats.

Discounting a friendly defeat to Brazil in September 2012 in which they fielded a team made up solely of domestic-based players, Argentina’s last defeat came in October 2011, a 1-0 reverse away to Venezuela. They won seven of the nine matches they played in 2012 and currently top the South American qualifying group for the 2014 World Cup, some 11 points clear of the first non-qualifying place.

Former Estudiantes coach Alejandro Sabella has largely settled on a loose 4-3-1-2 formation, with Messi given freedom to roam behind two strikers, usually Gonzalo Higuain and Sergio Aguero. In midfield, Javier Mascherano sits deep, Fernando Gago is fairly conservative to his right, while to his left Angel Di Maria zips forward to provide additional support in the final third.

Sabella has admitted that he sometimes finds it difficult to watch when teams break quickly on his side, such is the gamble he takes by giving Di Maria license to break forward, but this is by far a better aligned and balanced side than those seen during the reigns of Diego Maradona and Sergio Batista before him.

It is also a side in which Messi has flourished. While Batista foolishly tried to replicate Barcelona’s system, Sabella has found his own distinct formula to get the best out of his fleet-footed captain. Since the start of 2012, Messi has scored 13 times in 12 internationals and also provided numerous assists, including two for Gonzalo Higuain in the recent 3-0 qualifying victory at home to Venezuela.

With an initially sceptical public now fully behind Messi and his team-mates, Argentina look one of the favourites to win the 2014 World Cup on the home soil of their regional rivals Brazil. There would be no better place for Messi to solidify his reputation as one of the best players ever to grace the sport.

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