BUENOS AIRES (AFP) – For another stunning season at Barcelona even by his own exalted standards Lionel Messi undoubtedly deserves the epithet of best player in the world.
But La Pulga (the flea) has yet to transfer his scintillating club form to the international arena – witness his near anonymous showing in last year’s World Cup quarter-final humiliation by Germany.
Argentina coAch Sergio Batista says he has a “Plan B” just in case Messi fails to spark at the Copa America starting on July 1 – but even in Latin America, flair is not the only ingredient required for a successful recipe.
Ironically, it took a Brazilian to say it in so many words – Joao Saldanha, predecessor of Mario Zagalo – handler of the great Pele-inspired 1970 ensemble – opining that “every team needs someone to carry the piano” – that is, to do the donkey work.
That may be so – but fans of Brazil in particular demand that a healthy proportion of the squad can play it in approaching maestro fashion and Argentina supporters are no fans of a pedestrian version of the game.
Although MeSsi’s Barcelona have arguably taken modern football to a new level with their unerring high-speed passing game his own tribulations in Argentina’s sky blue and white mean pragmatism will underpin the tactics of the majority of Copa coaches.
If Messi is undoubtedly the man to dazzle on his day, Brazil can point to a number of starlets in their own team, steadily being rejuvenated by coach Mano Menezes, who will hope for great things in giving Santos starlet and Real Madrid and Chelsea target Neymar his head.
The 19-year-old, already the subject of one rejected Chelsea bid, bagged both goals in the Selecao’s recent friendly win over Scotland in a showing which only served to enhance the burgeoning reputation of a teen who only made his international debut last August – promptly scoring in a 2-0 win over the USA.
Menezes has already stated that the rough and tumble of a stint in England could well be just what his rising star requires.
“The style in England will give him stronger physical strength and he would develop to escape the strong marking. If he did that he would be a more complete player,” Menezes said after Neymar proved too good for the Scots.
Attacking midfielder Paulo Henrique Ganso, a clubmate of Neymar at Santos, is another fresh face at 21 who is coming through the ranks with Menezes’ eye fixed firmly on a strong World Cup on home soil in three years time.
Recent injury woes including thigh and knee problems have held Ganso’s development in temporary check but Menezes believes that his Santos youngsters “are two guys who give us alternatives.”
Away from the usual Argentinian and Brazilian suspects, Uruguay will hope their talisman Diego Forlan will reproduce the World Cup which made him player of the tournament in South Africa.
Chile will pin their hopes largely on the shoulders of Barcelona and Manchester United target Alexis Sanchez of Udinese after his impressive form this season in Serie A.
The unpredictable Colombia meanwhile have in their star man Radamel Falcao not exactly a youngster at 25 but nevertheless a man who averaged almost a goal a game with FC Porto in the past two seasons and could well earn him a move to Chelsea for next season rejoining coach Andre Villas-Boas.
Although his ratio is nearer one in four games for the Colombians he did lift the under20 version of the Copa in 2005.