Can Argentina and Italy rise to the occasion in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa?

Argentina's soccer star, Leo Messi. 

When we think of the soccer World Cup, the teams that come to mind are Brazil, Italy, Germany, Argentina and England, because they are arguably the best teams and always contend.

 The five time world champion Brazil, has never missed a beat in the world cup finals, they are the only team to have participated in every World Cup since 1930 and are always top favorites to take the trophy. No matter how bumpy their road to the World Cup may have been, traditionally Brazil rises to the occasion when it counts, and their game level excels. For the 2002 World Cup qualifiers road to Korea and Japan, the Brazilians had one of the most questionable road to the World Cup performances because of their level of play, far from good.

 The media criticized and questioned the team’s performance, some suggested to remove the coach, players were also put on the hot seat, the team wasn’t playing the “Jogo bonito” (beautiful game) that characterizes Brazil’s soccer. Brazil was still in danger of getting eliminated with two games to go, but eventually managed to qualify and in a “transformers”  fashion, Brazil all of a sudden transformed things around and conquered the 2002 World Cup under head coach Luis Felipe Scolari.

 This time around Argentina and Italy despite qualifying to another edition of the World cup, the journey for both was a tough one, as it was for Brazil in 2002, every game seem like a nail biter on their journey to reach the World Cup finals. Argentina led by a controversial coach Diego Maradona, former star of the Argentine men team, was criticized because of the formations and schemes he planted on the pitch. Argentina showed a poor level of play against inferior teams, that alarmed many of their followers, the team looked poor, disorganized, and at times clueless on the soccer pitch, many said that the team seem as if they didn’t have a coach.

Early in the qualifiers, Argentina suffered multiple loses against Paraguay, Ecuador, Chile, Brazil and the most shocking of all, a demolishing 6-1  against Bolivia in La Paz.

Argentina eventually qualified with a dramatic 1-0 win at Uruguay, awaiting other results that put them thru and sent Uruguay to a playoff for the last ticket to the World cup, where they took care of business defeating CONCACAF’s Costa Rica.

The road to the World Cup for Italy comparing to Argentina may not seem all that bad, but many still believe it was alarming the way they performed despite some hard fought wins. Italy came back from a deficit against the lowly Cyprus, who lead the “Azurris” (the blues) 0-2, but the Italians found a way to come back and avoid the upset with 3-2 win.

Against Ireland, with another questionable performance the Italians salvaged a 2-2 equalizer in the last minute, goal scored by Alberto Gilardino.

Italy’s road to the World Cup, rarely encountered comfortable wins, maybe with the exception of the 2-0 against Bulgaria where the team dominated and played better. The remainder of the games were hard fought, and left doubts in many as to what to expect in the World Cup for the “Azurris”.

With 40 days left for the kick off, many followers of Argentina and Italy remain skeptical or perhaps worried? Many Experts believe the Netherlands and Spain are better prepared than  Italy and Argentina, both are considered serious candidates to take the trophy for the first time in their history. I believe its possible since the tournament will be played in Africa, some and including myself don’t expect any African team to surprise the traditional contenders, despite that its being played in African territory.

 I remain optimistic that one of these two teams Argentina or Italy will eventually emerge as a strong candidate, one of the two will carry momentum and elevate their level of play by the time they reach the next round. I’m a strong believer that one of these two teams will reach the World Cup finals and won’t even shock me if they face each other in the final.

Argentina undeniably has a very talented  and offensive squad, lead by Barcelona’s Leonel Messi and company, such as  Millito, Aguero, Tevez and Higuain, together can set the tone and elevate their game, hopefull can accomplish something similar to the 2002 Brazil and 1986 Argentina teams and eventually win the tournament, despite their poor play during the qualifiers. The only problem I see with Argentina, is that I don’t trust Diego Maradona’s judgment as a coach, not even his schemes or formations, as good as a player that he was, hopefully Salvador Bilardo Argentina’s former coach winner the World Cup in 1986, can give the “great” Diego some advice.

Italy has a solid squad, they have a good collective game and if they can concentrate on defense and not allow the type of goals they gave up against inferior teams during the qualifiers. Italy can be dangerous, not to mention they have a good coach in Marcello Lippi and last but not least, after all they are the defendant champions of the 2006 edition.

 Ultimately, I will give Argentina the edge, I believe they have more talented players, with exceptional skills, opposed to Italy, even though Italy has a good and dynamic collective squad, in a key moment an individual and skillful player such as Messi or Tevez, can resolve a close game and bail you out. I think Argentina will find a way to make it deep in the tournament and eventually to the championship match July 11th.    

Argentina is in group B, with Nigeria, Greece and Korea Republic. The Argentine’s debut match is June 12 against Nigeria in Johannesburg, Ellis Park Stadium. While the “Azurris” of Italy are in group F, with Paraguay, New Zealand and Slovakia, their debut match is against Paraguay June 14 in Cape Town.

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