Messi begins pursuit of greatness

Star-studded Argentina face Bosnia and Herzegovina in Group F opener.

Afp June 14, 2014
"We’ve got a great group of players who can perform to their best and lift the trophy, which is our fundamental objective," Lionel Messi. PHOTO: AFP/FILE


Lionel Messi will be attempting to make his mark as an all-time great when Argentina tackle Bosnia-Herzegovina in their World Cup Group F opener in Rio de Janeiro in the early hours of Monday.

His devastating ability cannot be questioned, but without success with Argentina, there will always be an asterisk against his achievements.

But while his previous World Cup experiences in 2006 and 2010 proved unfulfilling, there is a feeling that 2014 should be Messi’s time.

He has been given everything he needs to succeed, with coach Alejandro Sabella carefully crafting his team to put Messi in an optimal position to thrive.

Having abandoned attempts to recreate Barcelona’s system, Sabella now asks Messi to line up on the right side of an extravagantly gifted three-man frontline, usually alongside Gonzalo Higuain and Sergio Aguero.

With Real Madrid’s Angel di Maria, man of the match in the Champions League final, also darting forward from midfield, it ensures that Messi is not the sole focus of opposition defenders’ attentions, but he rejects any notion that Argentina are a one-man team.

“I don’t think the Argentina national team depends on me – far from it,” he said.

“We’ve got a great group of players who can perform to their best and lift the trophy, which is our fundamental objective.”

Napoli striker Higuain is a doubt for Sunday’s match at the Maracana with an ankle injury, but Argentina’s strength in depth in attacking areas is such that Paris Saint-Germain’s Ezequiel Lavezzi is on hand to deputise.

Top seeds Switzerland clash with Ecuador

Switzerland will look to justify their top seed tag which raised many eyebrows ahead of the draw for the World Cup finals when they take on South American side Ecuador in Brasilia on Sunday in their opening Group E clash.

While outside Switzerland there may have been snorts of derision at their seeding, there is a lot of expectation within the country that a team with a core of players from the side that won the U17 world title in 2009 in Nigeria can become the first Swiss team to reach the quarter-finals since 1954.

Ecuador will be treated with the respect that comes from having finished ahead of Copa America champions and 2010 World Cup semi-finalists Uruguay in South American qualifying.

“It’s a very strong group,” said Switzerland boss Ottmar Hitzfeld. “All three teams are not easy to beat, otherwise they would not be qualified for the World Cup.

“But we have had a very good preparation so far. We do have the potential to qualify for the round of the last-16. That is our goal.”

Published in The Express Tribune, June 15th, 2014.

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