Argentina’s susceptibility at the back is almost as well documented as their attacking threat. No one in Argentina has much faith in makeshift full-back Marcos Rojo, who is generally considered to be the weak link.
The solid but unspectacular central defensive pair of Federico Fernandez and Ezequiel Garay will have to be willing to provide cover should Rojo slip up. At the other end, all the evidence suggests coach Alejandro Sabella has finally found the magic formula that will bring the best out of Leo Messi at international level, even if that formula seems to be nothing more inspired than cramming his forward line with as much creative craft as he has at his disposal. Expect an open game with both sides simply looking to outscore each other, if only to keep the ball away from their unconvincing defenses.
Meanwhile, Bosnia and Herzegovina coach Safet Susic has spoken candidly about his side’s chances of living with the threat of Argentina’s stellar strike-force when the sides meet at Rio’s Maracana on Sunday at 6pm ET/3pm PT. “We know that we expose ourselves too much and there is a huge risk in the way that we play. But I do not have any choice! Look at my team.”
Putting Susic’s lack of faith in his defense to one side, the Bosnian line-up is at best unbalanced. Veteran Emir Spahic will captain the side from centre-half after a torrid season at Bayer Leverkusen where he was often exposed for his diminishing pace, particularly in the Champions League against Manchester United where his vulnerabilities were exploited by direct running and balls in behind the back four.
Argentina’s front four of Sergio Aguero, Angel Di Maria, Gonzalo Higuain and Lionel Messi are likely to have room to work in against a defense that is rarely afforded much protection from midfield, with holding anchor Sejad Salihovic’s instincts to drift out to the wings and use his pace often getting the better of him. The Hoffenheim midfielder could be forgiven for being distracted by what’s going on further up the pitch however, with Miralem Pjanic coming off of an outstanding season with Roma in Serie A where his trickery and imagination behind the strikers was a key factor in i Giallorossi’s title challenge. His goal against Milan in April was a mouth-watering example of what can happen if Pjanic is given time and space to run at the defence, and Argentina’s Marco Rojo will need to have an answer to his many critics at left-back if he is to have much of a say in Pjanic’s mastery of the right of midfield.
Up front, the leering figure of Edin Dzeko will patrol the 18-yard box with support from the deadly Vedad Ibisevic. Ibisivic looked all set to take the European game by storm in 2008 when a series of unstoppable performances for Hoffenheim put Bundesliga defences to the sword with 18 goals in 17 games, but injury curtailed his progress and the goal-scoring return has dropped off in the years since. Three fruitful seasons with Stuttgart have gone some way towards restoring Ibisevic’s confidence, so too the winning goal that secured qualification with victory in Lithuania, and his partnership with the technically brilliant Dzeko is likely to cause the Argentine defence more problems than any other front line in Group F.