Argentina

Population: 40.2 million (UN 2009)

Area: 2.78 million sq/km

Capital: Buenos Aires

Currency: Argentine Peso

Federation: Argentine Football Association (AFA), founded 1893, affiliated to Fifa in 1912.

Registered players: 331,810

Kit colours:Sky blue and white striped shirts, black shorts and white socks

Team nickname: La Albicelestes (The White And Sky Blue)

World Cup appearances: 16 (1930, 1934, 1958, 1962, 1966, 1974, 1978, 1982, 1986, 1990, 1994, 1998, 2002, 2006, 2010, 2014)

World Cup record: winner (1978, 1986), finalist (1930, 1990), quarter-finalist (1966, 1998, 2006, 2010), second round (1974, 1982, 1994), first round (1934, 1958, 1962, 2002)

Copa America: winners (1921, 1925, 1927, 1929, 1937 1941, 1945, 1946, 1947, 1955, 1957, 1959, 1991, 1993), finalists (1916, 1917, 1920, 1923, 1924, 1926, 1935, 1942, 1967, 2004, 2007), third place (1919, 1956, 1959, 1963, 1989), fourth place (1922, 1987)

How they qualified for FIFA World Cup 2014: Won the South America zone qualifying group with 32 points ahead of Colombia on 30, Chile on 28, Ecuador on 25 and Uruguay on 25 after 9 wins, 5 draws and 2 defeats with 35 goals for and 15 against

Top clubs: River Plate, Boca Juniors, Velez Sarfield, San Lorenzo, Estudiantes de La Plata

A sleeping giant since Diego Maradona delivered their second World Cup in 1986, the time is ripe for his natural inheritor Lionel Messi, widely regarded as the best player in the world, to spearhead a fresh challenge for Argentina at Brazil 2014.

The big debate over Messi is whether or not he can do for Argentina what he has done for his club Barcelona.

While Messi can count on several other supreme talents in the national side, there remain doubts over the goalkeeper and a quest to fine the right coach.

As coach Maradona did okay at the 2010 World Cup until being exposed as tactically naive by Germany in a crushing 4-0 quarter-final rout.

Sergio Batista then oversaw a calamitous Copa America 2011 on home soil as he also failed to bring the best out of Messi and the rest with a humiliating quarter-final exit to eventual champions Uruguay.

Now at the helm is eternal Daniel Passarella sidekick Alejandro Sabella who has established a busy hardworking side with an astonishingly talented forward trident of Messi, Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain, surely the best forward line of any team in recent times.

Backed up by a midfield of speedy Real Madrid winger Angel di Maria, and the hard tackling duo of Fernando Gago and captain Javier Mascherano, Argentina eventually won the South America zone qualifying group.

But questions lie unanswered about their consistency, after nine wins, five draws and two defeats with 35 goals scored and 15 conceded in a group where Brazil did not feature.

One of the doubts is over ‘keeper Sergio Romero who lost his place at Sampdoria before being loaned to Monaco for the 2013-2014 season, where he then failed to break into the first team.

The defense is marshaled by the experienced and dependable Pablo Zabaleta of Manchester City, but that’s where the top quality stops in the backline.

But thanks to a fully functioning front line with Messi bagging 10 from 14, Higuain nine from 11 and Aguero five from eight, and the fact all three of them are world class strikers Argentina will be feared by everyone.

Sabella is trying to keep enthusiasm down by insisting that Spain, Germany and Brazil are all ahead of them in quality.

This is a de facto declaration he expects to make the semi-finals, and given that none of the other three teams have a match winner in the mold of the magical Messi, could he be the man to carry the day?

His ability to conjure goals from nothing with a twist of the hips, explosive acceleration, unplayable ball control and a killer shot, means he might, as Maradona did in 1986, hoist a very good squad beyond just a place in the final four and cement his place in the football pantheon.

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