World Cup 2014 Preview: Messi ready to lead Argentina


The Sports Network

Messi's trophy case is filled with both individual and team honors. From a team perspective Messi has led Barcelona to six La Liga titles with the most recent triumph coming in 2012-13.

In addition to the domestic league titles, Messi helped the Catalan club capture two Copa del Rey titles, six Spanish Super Cups, three UEFA Champions Leagues two UEFA Super Cups and two FIFA Club World Cups.

On the individual level, he has won three straight FIFA Ballon d'Or awards from 2010-2012, three La Liga Player of the Year honors and was the Champions League top scorer in four consecutive seasons from 2009-2012.

By his extremely high standards, Messi had a bit of a down season for Barcelona. He struggled with injury at various points of the campaign and finished the La Liga season with 28 goals in 31 appearances and added eight goals in European competition.

The 26-year-old will be motivated to prove he can lead his country to glory after Barcelona fell short of winning the La Liga title on the last day of the season.

He'll also be driven to put in some better individual performances as he has scored just one goal in eight career World Cup matches. Leading his country to a World Cup triumph would cement his place as one of the best players ever to grace the pitch.

Luckily for Messi, however, he'll have a lot of help, being joined in attack by fellow forwards Gonzalo Higuain and Sergio Aguero.

The Napoli forward, Higuain, has 36 caps to his name and had a solid season in Serie A, scoring 17 goals in 31 appearances and helping Napoli claim the Coppa Italia.

Higuain netted a hat trick against South Korea in the 2010 World Cup and has racked up an impressive 20 goals for his country. He is an exceptional finisher in front of goal, but also does well holding the ball up.

Aguero, 26, netted 17 goals in 23 appearances for Premier League Champions Manchester City last season. He was slowed a bit by injury, but poses a significant threat in front of goal having scored 21 goals for his country.

The versatile Javier Mascherano will likely patrol the midfield as he is an excellent ball winner and distributor, but head coach Alejandro Sabella can also use him at the back as he has played central defense for Barcelona the last two seasons.

As good as Argentina's attack is, the defense remains a bit of a question mark. Manchester City defenders Pablo Zabaleta and Martin Demichelis will man the right half of the back line. Zabaleta had a solid year for City, but Demichelis struggled to adapt to the Premier League style of play early on.

He leveled off as the season progressed and became a mainstay in the middle of the City defense as the Citizens claimed a second league title in three seasons.

With no Brazil to worry about, Argentina breezed through its CONMEBOL qualifying group, earning the top spot with 32 points and a 9-2-5 record.

Placed in a relatively weak group with Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iran and Nigeria, Argentina should have no trouble reaching the knockout stage.

A semifinal appearance seems in the cards, and if Messi can come up with some magic, Argentina could claim its third World Cup trophy.

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