Argentina scoff at defensive doubts, play for Messi
Having waltzed through the early rounds of the South Africa World Cup, then manager Diego Maradona’s team were humiliated 4-0 by the Germans in a game that exposed what many see as the frailty behind arguably the world’s greatest forward line.
“We know what happened, it’s in the past. We won’t repeat that,” centre back Ezequiel Garay said after a lively training session in front of hundreds of reporters in Belo Horizonte, where Argentina are based for the tournament.
“Obviously, we have a very offensive team, but we know our rivals are strong, so we will be defending well also and doing the dirty work,” added Garay, who plays for Benfica and hails from national team captain Lionel Messi’s home town of Rosario.
Messi, 27, under enormous pressure to add a World Cup trophy to his otherwise impeccable haul of honours, looked relaxed and happy during training. He did, though, balloon one shot high over the bar to the dismay of a few fans who had sneaked into Atletico Mineiro’s training ground.
“He’ll handle the expectations,” said team mate Lucas Biglia. “We just have to help him feel comfortable and happy so that on the pitch he can make the difference.”
With their attacking “Fab Four” of Messi, Gonzalo Higuain, Sergio Aguero and Angel Di Maria, Argentina are among the favourites to win the World Cup, and should have little trouble topping Group F which they open against Bosnia on Sunday.
“We’re an attack-minded team, but that doesn’t mean we’re weak in defence. Remember the first attack always starts in defence,” Biglia said, answering repeated questions about Argentina’s ability to avoid a repeat of the Germany result in 2010 when they come up against the best teams in Brazil.
Given their long rivalry with Brazil for South American supremacy, the Argentines said they were surprised at the warmth of the welcome they have had from fans, including thousands who turned up to an open practice session on Wednesday.
Messi was even fooled by a look-a-like for former Brazil forward Ronaldinho, who ran on to the pitch to see him.
“Leo gave him a hug, he took it with the affection and fun it was meant,” Biglia told the news conference.
Argentina have reached the last eight at three of the last four tournaments, going out to Germany in both 2006 and 2010. They have not made the semi-finals since Italy 1990 when they went on to the final and were beaten by the Germans.
Their other Group F rivals are Iran and Nigeria.
“We mustn’t be impatient in our first game against Bosnia,” said Garay, who has recovered from a thigh injury.
“They have good, tall players. We need to avoid corners and set pieces. But we are Argentina and we have to go out to win. We fear no one.”
(Editing by Ed Osmond)