Manero

Argentina: One Man’s Mission

By: Juan Mesa

HOW DID THEY GET HERE: When Lionel Messi finally got in sync with his national team, they finished atop the South American qualifying tournament. The team’s performance went from least to most—they suffered their first loss in history against Venezuela during their second qualy match— yet they never showed the absolute dominance that was expected from the team.

BIGGEST STRENGTH: Having Messi on the roster is enough to subdue rivals. The Barcelona striker is a human machine capable of everything. And even if that were not enough, next to him will be a group of stellar forwards and attacking midfielders like Sergio Agüero, Ángel di Maria, Gonzalo Higuaín and Ezequiel Lavezzi. That is simply the most fearsome attack entering this World Cup.

BIGGEST WEAKNESS: Argentina’s defense can be solid as a group but lacks the leadership of past figures like Daniel Passarella, Javier Zanetti or Roberto Ayala. Same thing happens in the midfield, which lacks a clear playmaker behind Messi and whoever gets to play next to him. The fullbacks are good defenders—think of Manchester City’s Pablo Zabaleta—but they do not participate in the attack that much. It is an unbalanced team.

WORLD CUP CHANCES: When a team has Messi in it, it becomes a favorite by default. “La Pulga” led Barcelona to their best era in history and only needs the World Cup title to secure his place next to Pelé and Maradona in the soccer pantheon. The conspiracy theorists have been floating the theory that Messi was “saving” himself for the World Cup in the last year, which would explain the poor results of Barcelona in the 2013-14 season. If that’s true, Argentina has everything to raise the cup.

FUN FACT YOU NEED TO KNOW: Even if Messi wins the World Cup, becoming a Maradona-like icon back at home is a different matter altogether. The creator of “The Hand of God” is a divine figure in Argentina, and some artists have captured his legend in many forms. There are at least 10 well-known songs dedicated to him, three movies and even a religion (you read that well) called “The Church of Maradona.”

IF THEY WERE A SONG, IT WOULD BE: “Gold Lion” by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs: Messi will be in charge of showing them “where the light is.”

Juan Mesa is a freelance writer based in New York City. He covers soccer and Latin music. When he's not writing, you can find him watching soccer games, talking about soccer or collecting soccer memorabilia. To relax, he plays house music vinyls.