COPA AMERICA 2011: Lionel Messi and Argentina Have No Excuses

   on June 30 2011 12:57 PM
Messi
Lionel Messi has a lot of pressure to perform in the 2011 Copa America. Reuters

The 2011 Copa America can be considered the breaking out party for Lionel Messi.

Considered by many as the world's best player, Messi has been a superstar for Barcelona, but just a solid player for his country.He is coming off an excellent season with Barcelona, and will be looking to make up for his lack of scoring in the 2010 World Cup by making his presence felt with commanding performance in July.

With the tournament being held in Argentina, and head coach Sergio Batista loading his roster stacked with talent, there shouldn't be much holding back the Argentines, who must be considered the favorites to win the tournament.

Messi has scored only 17 goals in 55 appearances for Argentina, and went scoreless last summer in South Africa. As great as Messi is,  he has had the ideal players surrounding him to showcase his talents in Barcelona, and that may not be the case with his Argentina squad.

It will be interesting to see how and where Batista plays Messi. He could let Messi play up front as the primary striker and let the midfield find him the ball, or Batista can give Messi the freedom to play more of an attacking midfield role by getting more touches to create his own shot.

The best answer to this question lies in a breakdown of Argentina.

In goal, Argentina has Sergio Romero, a very goalkeeper, but not a great one, and certainly not one who lives up to the great tradition of goalkeepers of the past. Argentina will need to attack, because they can't rely on Romero to bail them out. The defense in front of Romero is very good, but not as good as the 2010 World Cup team.

Missing from the squad are veterans Walter Samuel, Martin Demichelis, Gabriel Heinze, and young star Nicolas Otamendi. With Gabriel Milito, Nicolas Burdisso, and Pablo Zabaleta, along with Javier Zanetti, who is still effective and in his last hurrah, the Argentine defense should still be fine. However, this is not the star-studded line-up like last summer.

An area of concern is central midfielder, a position that has been vacant of superstar talent since legend Diego Maradona, and a place where Messi may be called on to handle the major duties. With former Manchester United star Juan Veron out of the picture, the pressure will be on Javier Pastore. Should Pastore not get the job, Batista will likely turn to Messi to be the playmaker.

Argentina has an excellent collection of players with the rest of their roster. At defensive midfielder, Batista has Javier Mascherano, Fernando Gago, and Esteban Cambiasso, who are probably the best collection of players at the position in the world.

Wing is another spot that is well covered with Angel di Maria, who has been on top of his game at Real Madrid.

That leaves us to the forwards with two top quality strikers: Gonzalo Higuain and Carlos Tevez. This might be an ideal partnership, but with Messi involved, as he was in 2010, it might be an overcrowded contingent.

It seems that Messi might be best used in a non-scoring role, unless Higuain and Tevez prove they can't find the back of the net playing alongside each other. Should that be the case, Batista may need to bench one of the two, and insert Messi as a striker, and rely on Pastore to be the main distributor.

Brazilian midfielder Ramires already declared Argentina the favorites for Copa America. Brazil is stacked this year, as well, but they are not sending their best midfield.

It will be up to the entire group, not just Messi, to step up and shed the image of a being just a talented group of underachievers. The will is there, the talent is there, and the home field advantage is there. Yes, there are no excuses for Argentina to come up short this time around.

A repeat of 2007, when Brazil dismantled Argentina 3-0 in the Final in Venezuela, would be a disaster.

In fact, anything less than a Copa America title, after an 18-year drought, and in front of their home fans would be a disaster.

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