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    Argentina

    Carlos Tevez's excellent form for Italian champions Juventus this season failed to earn him a recall when head coach Alejandro Sabella named his provisonal 30-man squad for the FIFA World Cup™.

    Tevez, capped 64 times, scored 19 goals for Juventus as they retained their Serie A title this term. However, not even that was a strong enough argument for Sabella to call up the 30-year-old for the first time since he took over at the helm of the national side following Argentina's failure to win the 2011 Copa America.

    Tevez, who played a full part in Argentina's 2010 World Cup finals campaign, had wanted to make up for his last appearance as it ended in him missing a penalty in the shootout loss to eventual champions Uruguay in the Copa quarter-finals.

    Sabella, who has until 2 June to decide on his final 23 players, opted to allow star player Lionel Messi to play in the role he plays to high effect at Barcelona -- which did not allow for Tevez to be part of his plans.

    Argentina, who won the last of their two World Cups in 1986, have been drawn in Group F with Africa Cup of Nations champions Nigeria, debutants Bosnia-Herzegovina and Iran.

    Argentina squad

    Goalkeepers:
    Mariano Andujar (Catania/ITA), Sergio Romero (Monaco/FRA), Agustin Orion (Boca Juniors)

    Defenders:
    Lisandro Lopez (Getafe/ESP), Hugo Campagnaro (Inter Milan/ITA), Federico Fernandez (Napoli/ITA), Pablo Zabaleta (Manchester City/ENG), Ezequiel Garay (Benfica/POR), Marcos Rojo (Sporting Lisbon/POR), Jose Basanta (Monterrey/MEX), Nicolas Otamendi (Atletico Mineiro/BRA), Martin Demichelis (Manchester City/ENG), Gabriel Mercado (River Plate)

    Midfielders:
    Javier Mascherano (Barcelona/ESP), Jose Sosa (Atletico Madrid/ESP), Augusto Fernandez (Celta Vigo/ESP), Ricky Alvarez (Inter Milan/ITA), Lucas Biglia (Lazio/ITA), Ever Banega (Newell's Old Boys), Fernando Gago (Boca Juniors), Maxi Rodriguez (Newell's Old Boys), Enzo Perez (Benfica/POR), Fabian Rinaudo (Catania/ITA)

    Forwards:
    Lionel Messi (Barcelona/ESP), Angel Di Maria (Real Madrid/ESP), Rodrigo Palacio (Inter Milan/ITA), Gonzalo Higuaín (Napoli/ITA), Sergio Agüero (Manchester City/ENG), Ezequiel Lavezzi (Paris SG/FRA), Franco Di Santo (Werder Bremen/GER)

    * Squad lists are only official once they have been confirmed and published by FIFA on 16 May at 12:00 CET.

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    Messi: It's going to be another story with Argentina

    Argentina superstar Lionel Messi believes his army of fans will see a different player at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ than the one that underperformed for Barcelona in 2013/14.

    "As I join up with the national team, the atmosphere is completly different," he said. "Many times in the past when I have gone back to Barcelona, I have played well. Now I am hoping that the opposite happens."

    Messi took his time to transcend his talent with Barcelona on to the international stage and it was only after South Africa 2010 that he started to perform well.

    The 26-year-old returned to his native Rosario on arrival in Argentina, and will join coach Alejandro Sabella and the rest of the squad next Monday at Ezeiza, the team's training camp.

    He vowed to train "with maximum energy in order to give his best like always". He added: "When I return to the training ground with my team-mates, with my friends, it's going to change my mentality and it's going to be another story."

    He also revealed that along with the rest of the Barcelona team this season, they were suffering from a "lack of energy".

    Argentina will play friendlies against Trinidad and Tobago on 4 June and Slovenia three days later.

    Their opening Group F match will be against Bosnia-Herzegovina on 16 June, which proceeds games against Iran and Nigeria.

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    Ardiles: Argentina are always contenders

    With less than two weeks to go until the start of the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™, excitement levels are at fever pitch. And as the countdown to the Opening Match on 12 June continues to tick by, a host of former stars of the beautiful game are coming forward with their predictions for who will claim football’s premier prize.

    For decades Argentina have been one of the major powers in the world game, so it is therefore only fitting that Osvaldo ‘Ossie’ Ardiles, a world champion with Argentina in 1978 and one of the South American nation’s living legends, should have his say. And though never a goalkeeper, Ardiles also remains an iconic wearer of his country’s No1 shirt – having donned said jersey throughout La Albiceleste’s campaign at Spain 1982.

    FIFA.com caught up with the former midfielder and experienced manager to talk about his country’s chances at Brazil 2014, Argentina star Lionel Messi and beating the Netherlands to lift the World Cup in Buenos Aires 36 years ago.

    Unforgettable moments
    Argentina’s illustrious history at the competition dates back to its very first edition in 1930 when they progressed to the Final, only to eventually lose out to hosts and neighbours Uruguay. Absent for the next four editions, La Albiceleste resurfaced at Sweden 1958 and, with the exception of Mexico 1970, they have featured at every finals thereafter.

    Yet having come so close in their first outing, the title continued to elude them, and when their country was selected to host the 11th edition of the tournament in 1978, Argentina felt that their chance had come. Head coach Cesar Menotti was a keen believer in the potential of the young Ardiles, fielding him in a crucial linking role on the right of midfield.

    “It all happened a long time ago, but I’ll never forget it,” said the former Tottenham Hotspur player and manager with a smile, when asked to look back at that victorious campaign. “We went into the greatest tournament on earth desperate to make the dreams of the Argentinian people come true. We gave everything we had and more on home soil.

    “We faced some very good sides, the biggest of which were the Netherlands, of course, who were particularly strong back then,” he went on. “That was a very tough Final, but the title was just reward for our efforts. To this day, everyone in the country is proud of what we achieved.

    We were the side that set Argentina on course for a great future. I myself am proud of what we did and I hope we can get that sense of pride back in Brazil.”

    Staying on top
    The title won, Argentina remained a force on football's greatest stage, making a strong showing at Spain 1982 before reclaiming the Trophy at Mexico 1986. In Italy, four years later, Argentina once again reached the Final, only to lose out narrowly to Germany, though the South American giants have not made it past the quarter-final stage since.

    Asked about this relative decline in his country’s fortunes, Ardiles was bullish: “It’s true that we haven’t made it past the quarter-finals for a while, but Argentina are always contenders. I believe that every World Cup is different, but as far as Brazil goes the same holds true: Argentina are one of the sides in with a chance. We have the odds on our side and an excellent team, especially the foursome of Messi, [Gonzalo] Higuain, [Sergio] Aguero and [Angel] Di Maria, all high-quality players who have excelled for club and country.”

    “It’s true that I was expecting [Carlos] Tevez to be called up,” he admitted. “He would have brought something different to the squad, but it’s the coach [Alejandro Sabella] who has to decide. And I won’t pretend we don’t have problems in defence, which is why I think it’s excellent that Martin Demichelis has been brought in to give the backline some much-needed experience. I hope we can give a strong, united performance because victory only results from everyone playing together. That is what we have to expect from them.”

    As for Argentina’s Group F rivals – Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iran and Nigeria – he had this to say: “It’s quite a reassuring draw. Unlike some of the other groups, the teams don’t worry me. But like I always say, that doesn’t mean you can treat your opponents lightly and disrespect them, quite the opposite in fact. You can easily get caught out on the big stage, so the players have to stay alert and give their best. I hope they can stay focused on winning and topping the group, because first place is vital if you want to progress right to the latter stages.”

    Messi “getting back to his best”
    Naturally, the conversation soon turned to Albiceleste No10 Messi, set to appear in his third consecutive World Cup and who will be wearing the captain’s armband on Brazilian soil. And though the Barcelona superstar failed to find the net at South Africa 2010, few expect the prolific forward to draw a blank again.

    “This time, Lionel Messi will give the performance we expect of him, I’m sure of that,” said Ardiles with conviction. “He played excellently in the qualifiers and shouldered his responsibilities brilliantly - he was our main goalscorer and one of the most decisive players on the pitch. Until midway through this past season he was carrying an injury that he picked up at the end of the previous campaign, but I can see he’s gradually getting back to his best. I reckon he is determined to have an amazing tournament, both on an individual and team level.”

    Does he feel Messi’s role can be compared with the part Diego Maradona himself played for the Argentina squad? “Messi should never be compared with any other player, that’s a no-no. Every player has their own approach and style and, in my eyes, Messi is truly incomparable. He’s got supernatural skill, a tactical awareness ahead of his time and can make the impossible look easy.

    “I believe Messi is already one of the five best players in the history of the game,” underlined Ardiles. “There’s no doubt about that and he doesn’t have to win a World Cup to prove it. It’s been obvious over the last few years and major tournaments. He’s a very ambitious player and you never know what he might do on the pitch.”

    Keeping the faith
    “I’d definitely tip Argentina as potential winners, they’ve got all the odds on their side this time,” said the 61-year-old, as the interview concluded. “I think they will face Brazil in a dramatic Final. Even so, there are several other teams that could play major roles in the competition, such as holders Spain, Germany, Italy and England."

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    Demichelis in Argentina squad as trio miss out

    Nicolas Otamendi, Ever Banega and Jose Sosa were the three players to miss out as Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella cut his FIFA World Cup™ squad to the final 23 names. Martin Demichelis joined fellow Manchester City defender Pablo Zabaleta and striker Sergio Aguero in the squad as Atletico Mineiro's Otamendi was the defender to make way.

    Boca Juniors' Fernando Gago was selected despite fitness concerns as Banega, of Newell's Old Boys, and Atletico Madrid's Sosa were left out of a midfield selection which also features Javier Mascherano, Angel Di Maria, Lucas Biglia, Maxi Rodriguez, Ricardo Alvarez, Enzo Perez and Augusto Fernandez.

    Barcelona's Lionel Messi, Napoli's Gonzalo Higuain, Paris Saint-Germain's Ezequiel Lavezzi and Rodrigo Palacio of Inter Milan join Aguero in a fearsome strikeforce.

    Argentina squad:

    Goalkeepers: Sergio Romero (Monaco), Mariano Andujar (Catania), Agustin Orion (Boca Juniors).
    Defenders: Ezequiel Garay (Benfica), Federico Fernandez (Napoli), Pablo Zabaleta (Manchester City), Marcos Rojo (Sporting Lisbon), Jose-Maria Basanta (Monterrey), Hugo Campagnaro (Inter Milan), Martin Demichelis (Manchester City).
    Midfielders: Fernando Gago (Boca Juniors), Lucas Biglia (Lazio), Javier Mascherano (Barcelona), Angel Di Maria (Real Madrid), Maxi Rodriguez (Newell's Old Boys), Ricardo Alvarez (Inter Milan), Augusto Fernandez (Celta Vigo), Enzo Perez (Benfica).
    Forwards: Sergio Aguero (Manchester City), Lionel Messi (Barcelona), Gonzalo Higuain (Napoli), Ezequiel Lavezzi (Paris Saint-Germain), Rodrigo Palacio (Inter Milan).

    * Squad lists are only official once they have been confirmed and published by FIFA on 5 June at 12:00 CET.

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    Argentina ease to victory © Getty Images 05 Jun 2014PA 19

    Argentina stepped up their 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ preparation with a comfortable home win against Trinidad and Tobago at the Estadio Monumental in Buenos Aires.

    The visitors kept Lionel Messi off the scoresheet but could not resist the Barcelona player's international team-mates as goals from Rodrigo Palacio, Javier Mascherano and Maxi Rodriguez secured a comfortable victory.

    In Argentina's first designated World Cup warm-up fixture, it took Alejandro Sabella's team a good while to break through, but once Palacio netted the opening goal in first-half stoppage time there was little doubting the way the game would go.

    There was a hint of fortune about Palacio's goal, which came from a corner swept over from the left by Angel di Maria. Palacio's near-post header was firm, but more or less straight at goalkeeper Jan-Michael Williams. Yet Williams could not cling to the ball and he was left to despairingly watch it drop over the line.

    Messi denied
    Messi almost found the target in the 50th minute when, from a free-kick, he curled the ball over the Trinidad and Tobago wall and against the inside of the right post. Mascherano was perhaps the surprise figure sweeping up the loose ball, which bounced across the goal mouth for the midfielder to stick his left boot to and direct into the empty net. Williams was powerless to prevent him making it 2-0 to Argentina.

    Argentina broke out of defence at pace for the third goal in the 64th minute as Mascherano's long pass put Inter Milan's Palacio behind the Trinidad and Tobago backline. He nudged the ball beyond Williams but still had plenty of work to do, even just to keep the ball in play.

    He stopped it crossing the dead-ball line before cutting back to Rodriguez who placed an assured shot into the net from 10 yards.

    Argentina were without established stars including Pablo Zabaleta, Ezequiel Garay, Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain, who are building up their fitness for the tilt at glory in Brazil. Sabella's side face a final warm-up game against Slovenia on Saturday.

    Messi told television station TyC Sports: "The important point is that we finished the match with no injured players. We are calm, happy with the squad we have. We'll try to play good football in the World Cup, win the next friendly and focus on the tournament then."

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    Messi on the mark for Argentina

    Argentina fielded a weakened team but still eased to a 2-0 win over Slovenia, before heading to Brazil for what many expect to be a strong challenge for the FIFA World Cup.

    Ricardo Alvarez scored the first goal and Lionel Messi added the second off the bench as coach Alejandro Sabella chose to give breaks to a number of his leading stars. Sabella decided against starting with Messi, Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain and Angel di Maria and the decision did not cost him. Alvarez quickly put Argentina ahead when, in the 11th minute, he scored from the edge of the penalty area. Maxi Rodriquez then had a chance with a long-range shot, before the same man hit the post.

    Sabella made changes in the second half and sent on Messi, from which point the Barcelona man took control. He put in Real Madrid’s Di Maria who in turn crossed to Aguero. The Manchester City striker flicked a header to Messi and he wrapped things up. “We have a great group and team, a World Cup is very tough and we will have to fight a lot for it,” Messi said. “We arrive with the right age, with most of us playing in the best leagues of Europe for years. Winning it is our target, but it will be very hard.”

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    Garay prepared for Dzeko duel

    When you play for Argentina, the spotlight will always fall on you sooner or later. Yet at this particular FIFA World Cup™, the men who form the Albiceleste rearguard are going to find themselves under more scrutiny than would usually be the case. Now 27, the central defender is playing some of the best football of his career, excelling with Benfica last season and cementing his place in the national side under Alejandro Sabella. Buoyed by his excellent form, he is unEzequiel Garay concerned about having his every move analysed and receiving the occasional piece of criticism.

    “Obviously we’re aware of all that,” the serene Garay told FIFA on the eve of his side’s Brazil 2014 debut against Bosnia and Herzegovina. “We know that in midfield and up front we’ve got some great players who can change the course of games at any given time. That makes it a tremendous challenge for us defenders, but that’s not because we’re not good enough but because our team-mates further forward are so good.” Garay is entitled to regard some of the criticism that has come the defence’s way as unjustified, especially with Argentina having conceded only 15 goals in their 16 Brazil 2014 qualifying matches, the second-best defensive record in the CONMEBOL Zone.

    Discussing the subject with the same elegance he displays on the pitch, Garay said: “We defenders need to keep calm. We improved an awful lot during the course of the qualifiers and we ended it as a pretty solid unit. And obviously if we’re going to win games then we need to do our job pretty well.”

    A very special debut
    Argentina’s first test comes against a Bosnia and Herzegovina side that look sure to provide stern opposition, despite this being their FIFA World Cup™ debut.
    “We know they’ve got some fine players, not least the centre-forward (Edin) Dzeko, but the main thing for us is to avoid being complacent and not make the mistake of thinking it’s going to be easy,” said the centre-half, contemplating Sunday’s meeting with the Bosnians in Rio de Janeiro. All the same, he accepts Argentina are favourites for this game and are expected to go far in the competition: “With the history and the players we’ve got, some of whom are among the best in the world, we’re seen as one of the contenders for the title, though all our thoughts right now should be on beating Bosnia.”

    A FIFA U-20 World Cup winner in 2007 and an Olympic champion the following year, Garay is preparing to make his debut on the biggest stage of all, a debut that will come, in of all places, the legendary Maracana. Relishing that prospect, the assured stopper commented: “I’ve never played there before and I want to enjoy it. It’s going to be very special. I’d love to play one more game there, though, and that’s the Final itself, which is what we’re all aspiring to. That’s still a long way away, though. It’s our obligation to show all our rivals the same respect and to take this one step at a time.”

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    Maradona: Messi should take things easy

    Lionel Messi takes centre stage in the FIFA World Cup™ on Sunday, facing Bosnia and Herzegovina in the Maracanã with dreams of returning to the stadium for the Final in four weeks' time. Argentina arrive in Rio de Janeiro with expectations running high, not least that Messi will produce the kind of displays that were absent in South Africa four years ago. Diego Maradona is among those who believes that his injury-enforced break for three months last season should benefit Argentina, who are playing in the heartland of Brazil, their neighbours and most bitter rivals.

    "I see Messi doing well. I think it was good for him to have a proper rest because he had gone four years hardly missing a match," Maradona said in Buenos Aires newspaper Ole. "I'd really like to speak to him now, and tell him to take things easy, not to listen to the idiots. There are a lot of them, unfortunately." Argentina have a wonderfully-talented attack, so much so that coach Alejandro Sabella could afford to leave Carlos Tevez out of his squad. However, there are still question marks at the back, something readily admitted by Maradona who coached Argentina in 2010.

    He said: "We are looking good in attack but I am a bit worried about the defence, to be honest. But the team has more experience now [than in 2010], and that is very important in the World Cup." That attacking strength is however causing a dilemma for coach Sabella. He has admitted that he favours a 5-3-2 formation, but he used a 4-3-3 set-up during the successful qualifying campaign, choosing not to squander his fire-power. There have been indications in training this week that he is going to be more conservative against Bosnia and Herzegovia, which could mean Gonzalo Higuain misses out. Much, of course, will depend on Messi but Bosnia coach Safet Susic's insists he has no plans to man-mark the four-time FIFA World Player of the Year.

    Susic said: "It is a dilemma for me, but to sacrifice a player just to man-mark Messi, I don't think it would be good for us. I don't think we have ever played a match having dedicated a player to man-mark a specific opponent, and it's going to be the same against Argentina." This will be Bosnia and Herzegovina's World Cup debut, indeed their first major tournament having only played the first match as an independent nation in 1995 following the civil war and break-up of Yugoslavia. Argentina defender Federico Fernandez says they are acutely aware of the threat of Manchester City striker Edin Dzeko. "He is a big player with a good aerial game," said Fernandez. "We have to stay close to him and be ready for potential crosses coming in from the flanks."

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    Messi: We must improve

    Lionel Messi hailed Argentina's winning start to the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ after scoring a classic goal to see off Bosnia and Herzegovina. Messi's trademark run and strike will go down as one of the great World Cup goals, but the Argentina captain admitted he was relieved the team had secured a 2-1 win in the Maracana after a disappointing first half. Argentina had taken a lead in the third minute with a touch of fortune, Sead Kolasinac deflecting the ball into his own net, before Messi scored a stunning second after a superb run to make it 2-0. Substitute Vedad Ibisevic grabbed a late goal for Bosnia - which could yet prove important in terms of qualification from Group F.

    Messi said: "It's important that we started off on the right foot with the three points, but we do have things we must improve. It's not easy with all the anxiety and the nerves, but the important thing is the result. We had a great second half. We had the ball much more, created several opportunities and that's what we have to continue to do." Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella only awarded his team a mark of 6 out 10 and said his half-time changes to provide more support to Messi had been crucial. Sabella said: "On balance I would give it a 6. We need to improve and part of that is in my hands - it is up to me. "The changes at half-time just produced this improvement. They were playing better together and there was more support around Messi. Once Messi received the ball there was better follow-up and better support. I think that, whatever happens in this World Cup, he is among the best players in the history of football."

    Messi himself acknowledged the changes from five in defence to a 4-3-3 formation made it much easier for him and fellow striker Sergio Aguero. He said: "As strikers, we prefer that system as it gives us more attacking opportunities and if we don't use that system we suffer a bit. "I was often on my own and so was Kun [Aguero] and it was very difficult, so there are things to be improved on." Sabella confirmed that he had taken Aguero off as he had seemed tired rather than for injury reasons, even though the Manchester City frontman had appeared to be limping.

    Bosnia perspective
    Bosnia coach Safet Susic was satisfied with his team's performance in a match which he said had been settled by one of the best players in the world of all time. Susic said: "We are realistic people and our goal was to put as much resistance as possible to one of the favourites to win the title, and this is what we have done. "I am satisfied with what I saw, especially after we had this misfortune to concede an own goal in the first couple of minutes. It is a huge satisfaction to take part for the first time in the World Cup and play against a great team and one of the best players in the world - and not only of today but of all time."

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    Argentina's game of two halves

    Argentina’s 2-1 defeat of Bosnia and Herzegovina in their 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ debut is hardly likely to generate great delight among Albiceleste fans. That said, there are times when all that matters is getting the job done, and this was one such occasion. Those fans are likely to make a similar observation about the game as the players themselves did after it was all over, namely that Alejandro Sabella’s side were more fluent after the restart, when the coach switched from the 3-5-2 formation he began the game with to the 4-3-3 that had worked so well for him in the qualifiers. The introduction of Fernando Gago and Gonzalo Higuain for Hugo Campagnaro and Maxi Rodriguez also helped his side approach their usual rhythm.

    One man who saw things that way was midfielder Javier Mascherano, who was making his 99th appearance for his country. “Even though we took an early lead, we struggled to get into the game in the first half,” he told FIFA. “We played better in the second, though.” “We looked more like ourselves with our usual formation. Why the changes? Well, the coach thought that was the best way to start before then deciding that he had to change. That what it’s all about.” Right-back Pablo Zabaleta, who was finally making his World Cup debut at the age of 29, also pointed to the improvement in Argentina’s performance after the break, while making an interesting tactical observation: “When we changed to 4-3-3 our first pass into the forwards was better, we were organised and we got more people forward,” he said, also in conversation with FIFA. “When we do that, we’re a handful for anyone.”

    A glass half full
    Neither player had been expecting an easy night, a feeling that had nothing to do with formations or tactics, as Mascherano explained: “We knew it wasn’t going to be our greatest game. The important thing was to win because opening games at the World Cup are never easy, even more so when you have a few players who’ve never experienced one before. All that anxiety has gone now, though.” For his part, Zabaleta took a pragmatic view of the evening’s events: “Obviously we tried to win by playing good football, but what matters today is the result. What counted was getting the three points and we did that. We still know, though, that we have plenty of room for improvement, which is a good thing.”

    One of the many positive points that the two-time world champions can take from their defeat of the Bosnians is that Lionel Messi got back to goalscoring ways, having gone a whole 623 minutes without hitting the back of the net in a FIFA World Cup match, his last world finals goal coming against Serbia and Montenegro at Germany 2006. “We are all very pleased to see him get his goal because he’d gone a while without scoring in the World Cup,” said Zabaleta of Messi’s second-half strike. “We hope he can get a lot more too.”

    Before taking their leave the Albiceleste duo had special words of praise for the thousands of Argentina fans who made themselves noticed at the legendary Maracana with their singing. “I wasn’t surprised by the support,” said Zabaleta. “You expect that from Argentina fans. We felt like the home side today and we’re proud of that.” Mascherano was no less effusive: “I’ve never experienced anything like that outside my country. I hope they keep supporting us because they’re going to help us a lot.”

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