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 Posted by Miguel Delaney
Jun 14, 2014

Argentina make a last-minute switch in hopes of matching their ambitions

Despite failing to progress past the quarterfinals of the past five tournaments, Argentina have high hopes of winning the World Cup.

The buildup to Argentina's first match was dominated by a number, but it wasn't that magic third World Cup they're aiming for, their famous No. 10 or the fact they have now gone 23 years without any trophy at all.

Instead, it was a formation: 5-3-2.

Alejandro Sabella's extremely conspicuous experimentation with a new system has provoked a lot of questions from those around the Argentinean squad, if not within it. When the manager was asked the reason for any potential switch, and whether that was down to respect for Bosnia-Herzegovina, he only added to the intrigue.

"It has to do more other things, but I can't say publicly," he said at a news conference.

Just when the stars seemed to be aligning for Argentina, then, there are a stack of questions about their alignment.

Surprisingly, some have suggested it might be down to personal requests, others to some unknown injury. The slight fear, which perhaps borders on paranoia, is that it might disrupt what had been a free-scoring attack and an increasingly fearsome-looking team.

Because, when you stand back and properly consider it, there are a number of reasons this should be a particularly prosperous World Cup for Sabella's side.

Felipe Scolari might have claimed Brazil's "time has arrived," but that could well apply to Argentina.

Sabella would not countenance such talk, of course, and thereby struck a very different tone to bullish Scolari. He was much more restrained.

"I don't like the word favourite. We'll leave that for others."

That could be part of the positives. Although there is extreme pressure on Brazil in this tournament because of where it's taking place, Argentina could well reap the benefits of a South American World Cup without quite the same overbearing sense of expectation.

The location has deepened other dimensions, not least the drive around Lionel Messi, given that this is the first tournament in Latin America since Diego Maradona's masterclass in Mexico 1986. The Barcelona attacker, as so many have brought up, is now at broadly the same age and stage of his career as his legendary predecessor.

There is a growing belief that Argentina, led by Alejandro Sabella and Lionel Messi, could have a good chance of winning this year's World Cup.

Of course, one factor only adding to the reverence for Maradona is the fact Argentina have won absolutely nothing since his 1994 retirement. What better way to end that than in the home of their most historic rivals, and the Maracana itself? The last time Argentina played here, in 1998, was also the last time Brazil lost in the stadium.

There has already been a bit of edge to their interaction with the hosts, especially with the 'welcome to the champions' banner suddenly hung up around their Belo Horizonte base and some of the heckling at their training sessions.

The squad's journey into Rio didn't exactly involve rancorous crowds, however, and their buildup to the opening game was surprisingly low key -- beyond the confusion and questions around the formation.

Sources around the squad were genuinely taken aback by the changes. The most mundane explanation, however, is simple respect for Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The World Cup debutants have a famously potent attack, Argentina have a notoriously porous defence, and Sabella might simply be trying to tailor the tactics to the situation.

Except, the manager wouldn't admit that is what he is doing, or even acknowledge his side would play that way.

"I came here with a line of four, it's a possibility," Sabella said. "We'll see. We'll talk tonight, see how the lads are, what training is like… I haven't decided anything. I could put on four attackers but they then can't find space, and then you have fewer players when you lose it. An extra attacker doesn't allow us to win the ball.

"It's about quality and occupying the space. I have a way of thinking, that I heard from one great trainer: you can't attack well without defending well, and you can't defend well without attacking well.

"You have to have order."

There has been an argument that, with Gonzalo Higuain likely injured, Sabella is also realigning his team to move Messi up front beside Sergio Aguero. That would throw up yet another parallel with 1986, given how Carlos Bilardo -- whom Sabella described as a "great influence" -- effectively invented wing-backs to maximise Maradona's talent.

Again, Sabella wouldn't commit, other than to praise his premium talent. Earlier this week, the manager called Messi "omnipresent," but he still stressed the need to ensure Messi is in the most productive areas.

"You try and create a propitious atmosphere to play his best."

Should Argentina play their best against Bosnia-Herzegovina, there should be no issues at all, regardless of formation. The only figure that really matters is three points, but that is also the only way to properly start their tilt for a third trophy, as Sabella stressed.

"I think of tomorrow's game, no more forward than that."

But, potentially, more defenders.

The country awaits a defining display and, at last, another defining World Cup.

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