Tag Archives: Messi

Between Messi and immortality, a world of pain

As the undisputed king of football, Leo Messi has already secured his place in the game’s history. La Liga champion? Check. Copa del Rey winner? Check. Champions League winner? Check. European Footballer of the Year? Been there. FIFA World Player of the Year? Done that.

But all the accolades don’t seem to be enough for some pundits to consider Messi to be the greatest of all time. The critics argue Messi isn’t Messi without his Barcelona buddies by his side. Put on the Albicelestes colours and his magic disappears. To be the best, they argue, requires winning the one trophy that has been held above all others – the FIFA World Cup. Win that, Leo, and the debate will be over.

His quest begins again this Saturday, when South America kicks off qualifiers for Brazil 2014. And make no mistake: if Messi is to be a World Cup winner, getting there won’t be easy. The CONMEBOL qualification tournament is regarded as the toughest in the world, agrueling three-year cycle in which every South American team competes in home and home round robin tournament. The top four automatically qualify, with the fifth place team going to a playoff round against an Asian team. There are no easy matches in South American qualifying anymore, no Faroe Islands, Maldives, or St. Lucia’s to beat up on. Every match is war.

Don’t believe me? Check out the semi-finalists from this year’s Copa America: Uruguay, Paraguay, Peru, and Venezuela. No Argentina, nNo Brazil… and no gimmes. Every game will be tight, physical and challenging. At the end of a South American qualifier, the players look as if they were in a rugby match, not a football match.

For any player, the World Cup is the ultimate prize. To win it as an Argentine in Brazil would be even sweeter. For Lionel Messi to lift the trophy, he will have to go through football hell. That is the high price of immortality.

Hadi Zogheib

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Batista stakes his claim in Argentina

When Sergio Batista was given the reins of Argentina’s national team on an interim basis, reactions in his home nation were mixed.  Some were still mourning the resignation of national icon Diego Maradona, while others were hoping for a different gaffer, one with some managerial experience in Europe or  Argentina’s domestic league.  After all, Batista was coming off a horrendous experience with the youth squad, having failed to guide Argentina to the World Youth Cup for the first time in recent memory.

Some, however, remember Batista as the brilliant tactical manager who ledArgentina to Olympic gold at Beijing in 2008.  In the process, he found a way to get the most out of his best players, namely Leo Messi, Angel Di Maria and Javier Mascherano. So how would he perform at the senior level?  The answer, thus far, is magnificently.

Unlike Maradona, Batista has stacked his midfield and defence with more  possession based players, and the results have been astonishing.  Nicolas Ottamendi, Di Maria, and Maxi Rodriguez were replaced by Ever Banega, Esteban Cambiasso, and Javier Zanetti and Argentina has looked unstoppable since.  In fact, following Tuesday’s 4-1 demolition of world champions Spain, supporters of the Albicelestes are no doubt be wondering what could have been had Batista been in charge in South Africa instead of Maradona.

Batista still has a number of upcoming friendlies to justify his appointment as permanent manager, including a match against hated-rivals Brazil. But if the big win over Spain is any indication,  he looks certain to be around for some time.

Hadi Zogheib

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South American teams still unbeaten

Gonzalo Higuain celebrates a goal against South Korea.

With the World Cup well into its second week, there has been a lot of talk about the sub par play of some of the traditional  superpowers, such as England, Italy, Spain and France.  However, another interesting story is unfolding, the superb play of the South American teams.  After Paraguay’s 2-0 victory over Slovakia this morning, and with Brazil’s tantalizing clash with the Ivory Coast still due up today, the South American teams remain unbeaten with a record of 6-0-2.

Paraguay looked solid in holding the defending champions, Italy, to an opening match 1-1 draw (with New Zealand shockingly duplicating the feat today), while Chile were ferocious in dismantling Honduras. Brazil patiently waited to take their chances against a surprisingly stingy North Korean side, putting them in control of their group, while Uruguay are in pole position in Group A, at the expense of the hapless French.  As for Argentina, if Leo Messi’s form holds, I don’t think anyone will fancy a go at Maradona’s boys.  It’s still early, mind you, and the rest of the nations have plenty of time to improve, but for now it’s the South Americans who are stealing the show in South Africa.
Hadi Zogheib

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Dr. Z’s World Cup Predictions: Group B

Dentist by day, football prognosticator by night, our own Dr. Hadi Zogheib is scouting out each group at World Cup 2010 and predicting first round scores and standings. Here’s what the good doctor says about Group B:

Argentina:  Clear favourites in one of the easier groups of the tournament.  Questions persist over Diego Maradona’s appointment as manager, but consider this;  Argentina had only one victory in its first seven matches in South American qualifying and was struggling badly under then-manager Alfio Basile.  Maradona’s record, while not great, was still better than Basile’s.  Besides, with little Lionel Messi in the lineup (not to mention Carlos Tevez, Gonzalo Higuain, Sergio Aguero, or Diego Milito) , even crazy Maradona could be made to look like a genius.

South Korea:  Strong on technique and speed, but short on organization and aerial strength, the Koreans are a bit of a question mark.  They definitely have the ability to spring an upset but could just as easily go home without a point.  They come into the tournament full of confidence, however, having just knocked off bitter rivals Japan in their home stadium.

Greece:  The Greeks have never been the prettiest team in the world to watch, but they will definitely be tough to break down.  Ask any of their Euro 2004 opponents.  Completely opposite to the South Koreans, the Greeks use organization and strength to compensate for their lack of flair.  They will also rely heavily on striker Theofanis Gekas, who led all of Europe with ten goals in qualifying.

Nigeria:  Historically the most successful African team at the World Cup, and traditionally the most-feared team from the continent.  But make no mistake, this is not the same Nigeria people are used to.  They barely qualified for the tournament by leapfrogging Tunisia on the final day, as the Tunisians were upset in Mozambique and an 81st minute strike by Obafemi Martins sent the Nigerians through.  Nevertheless, under Swedish coach Lars Lagerback, the men in green should have the talent and support to do well in South Africa.

Results:

Argentina 1-0 Nigeria

South Korea 0- 1 Greece

South Korea 1- 3 Argentina

Greece 0 – 0 Nigeria

Argentina 1- 1 Greece

Nigeria 2-1 South Korea

Group Standings:

Argentina 7 pts

Greece 5 pts

Nigeria 4 pts

South Korea 0 pts

Also: Find out who Hadi picks to emerge from Group A.

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Continental crossover?

Hadi Zogheib

With the World Cup drawing ever closer, fans, armchair managers and bettors around the world are busy deciding who they believe will walk away from South Africa with the trophy. The usual names pop up in most conversations – England, Italy, Brazil, Argentina, Spain, Netherlands, Germany, etc…


Will Messi and his South American mates have a leg up?

So, who should you put your money on? Well, that depends on your level of superstition. If you are logical, you’ll probably pick from the favourites, basing your winner on who has the best squad, manager, group strength, or other factors.

But if you’re the superstitious type, you may want to consider something else when trying to win that office pool. A look at the World Cup winners since 1962 will definitely narrow down your choices:

1962 – Brazil
1966 – England
1970 – Brazil
1974 – Germany
1978 – Argentina
1982 – Italy
1986 – Argentina
1990 – Germany
1994 – Brazil
1998 – France
2002 – Brazil
2006 – Italy

Spot the pattern? The trophy has alternated between Europe and South American countries for 12 consecutive tournaments. That’s almost 50 years! Add that to the fact a European country has never won a World Cup held outside Europe, and it bodes well for the likes of Argentina and Brazil. As for Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay? Well, that depends on how superstitious you are.

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