Maradona expects Messi to shine, but is worried about Argentina defense
Lionel Messi takes centre stage in the World Cup on Sunday, facing Bosnia-Herzegovina in the Maracana with dreams of returning to the stadium for the final in four weeks’ time.
Argentina arrive in Rio 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 – but there are still question marks at the back, something readily admitted by Maradona, coach 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.
The coach 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 firepower.
However, there have been indications in training this week that he is going to be more conservative against Bosnia, which means Gonzalo Higuain missing out.
Much, of course, will depend on Messi but Bosnia coach Safet Susic’s insists he has no plans to man-mark the four-times 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’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."