Soccer: Argentina attempt to play down nation's high hopes

By Karl Ritter

Lionel Messi in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Photo / AP
Lionel Messi in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Photo / AP

Argentina travelled to Brazil yesterday trying to temper the sky-high expectations that have taken hold among some media, fans and even national officials.

Hundreds of fans cheered the team as they left Buenos Aires in a chartered jet and a smaller number greeted the players when they arrived in the city of Belo Horizonte.

They have good reason to be confident. Argentina have a more close-knit team than when they got crushed by Germany in the quarter-finals four years ago, and 10 goals in qualifying helped star forward Lionel Messi shake off his reputation of underachieving for the national team.

But their full potential is hard to assess because they haven't played a major soccer power since losing to Uruguay in their final World Cup qualifier in October.

"It's great that people are excited, but we're taking it step by step. We know the World Cup is difficult and anything can happen," Messi said after Argentina beat Slovenia 2-0 in their last warm-up game.

Ahead of the team's arrival, an Argentine federation official had a greeting put up on the gate of the team base in Belo Horizonte saying "Welcome future champions." He acknowledged that some players, including Messi, weren't thrilled by the triumphalism, and the sign was quickly removed.

After the Slovenia match Messi brushed off a television reporter who asked whether he should bring a flag saying "Argentina campeon [champion]" to Brazil.

"You bring what you want, we're taking it easy," Messi said.

Among the other title favourites, Germany have tested their strength in friendlies against Poland, Cameroon and Armenia and defending champions Spain took on three-time World Cup winners Italy in March. Meanwhile, Argentina booked dress rehearsals this year against Romania, Trinidad and Tobago, and Slovenia, none of whom made it to the World Cup.

Argentina didn't concede a goal in those games, easing some concerns about their defence, but they don't say much about how the team will measure up against stronger adversaries.

Argentina are drawn in what looks like one of the least competitive groups, with Nigeria, Iran and World Cup debutants Bosnia-Herzegovina.

It's widely assumed the Albiceleste will breeze through the group, though coach Alejandro Sabella won't be drawn into speculating about potential opponents in the next phase. "I can't do futurology."

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