Argentina will almost certainly secure their qualification for the second round of the 2010 World Cup on Tuesday when they take on Greece. They can afford to lose by five goals against Greece, and even then they might not go out, depending on the result of South Korea vs Nigeria of course. With qualification already a virtually assured, Diego Maradona is going to be mixing the team up a bit, to give some players a rest in readiness for the second round and save others from possible suspension. Lionel Messi, though – who in spite of impressive performances is still yet to score in this World Cup – will play, and the other two-thirds of Argentina ‘reserve’ attack consist of Diego Milito and Sergio Agüero. So, don’t relax too much, Greece fans.
Maradona will, though, be making seven changes to his squad. Some of these are enforced; Jonás Gutiérrez is suspended, and will be replaced at right back by Vélez Sarsfield centre back Nicolás Otamendi. Roma centre back Nicolás Burdisso (who has played at right back plenty of times before, unlike Otamendi) will be the replacement centre back for the injured Walter Samuel. Also joining the back line will be Estudiantes de La Plata left back Clemente Rodríguez, who comes in for the already-booked Gabriel Heinze. Martín Demichelis, then, will be the sole defender who started the South Korea and Nigeria matches.
In the midfield, captain Javier Mascherano is also carrying a booking, and so we’ll get a second look at Fiorentina reserve and River Plate transfer target Mario Bolatti as the cinco (defensive midfielder). Bolatti came on late in the game for Gonzalo Higuaín against South Korea, primarily to give the Real Madrid striker a standing ovation following his hat-trick. Maxi Rodríguez retains the starting place he gained due to Seba Verón’s injury, but Verón himself does come back, this time on the left of the midfield three, where he replaces Ángel Di María, who’s been perhaps Argentina’s least notable attacking player so far in this tournament. Maradona had wanted to keep Verón rested for the knockout stages, but the midfielder was eager to be given a chance to start and put in a better display than he managed in the opening match against Nigeria.
Up front, Lionel Messi will play again, to help him and the attack keep some continuity, but Carlos Tevez and Gonzalo Higuaín will be replaced by Sergio Agüero and Diego Milito respectively. The coaching team apparently liked the link between Messi and Agüero against South Korea – didn’t everyone? – when El Kun replaced Carlitos in the second half. Milito, of course, is a straight replacement for Higuaín. This is certainly the area of the team with the most strength in depth, but aside from Agüero and Milito, I’d expect Burdisso to be the most hopeful of the new inclusions that he might be able to push for a starting place in the next match as well. He was more solid than first-choice Martín Demichelis alongside him when he came on against South Korea.
The lineup against Greece, then, is expected to look like this, with the players in bold the survivors from the South Korea starting XI:
Otamendi —- Burdisso —- Demichelis —- C. Rodríguez
M. Rodríguez —- Bolatti —- Verón
Milito —- Agüero
I’m not sure about the captain, but my educated guess would be that in Javier Mascherano’s absence, Seba Verón will get the armband. A draw is enough to confirm Argentina as group winners, and if they finish in that position they’ll play their second round match in Johannesburg, just 35 miles from their base in Pretoria. Should they finish second, they’ll play in Port Elizabeth, which is more like 600 miles away, and have a day’s less rest as well as travel time – the group winners will play their next game on Sunday, the runners-up on Saturday.
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