If you read the world soccer press, it seems all you hear are that one of three teams will win this summer’s World Cup: Spain (the 15/4 favorite on Bodog), Brazil (5/1) or England (6/1).
But with as dominant as Argentine superstar Lionel Messi has been in Europe this season, how can you not ponder a bet on Argentina at 9/1?
By now you have no doubt heard about Messi’s incomprehensible four-goal game for Barcelona in a win against Arsenal in the Champions League – Messi became the sixth player ever to score four in a Champions League game. He followed that with his 27th La Liga goal of the season in a 2-0 win Barcelona win over Real Madrid on Saturday. That was Messi’s 40th goal of the season in all competitions, which is the most in the world. And this guy is just 22 – he will turn 23 two days after Argentina opens the World Cup against Nigeria, which is already preparing for Messi.
"Messi is in fantastic form at the moment and we shall make sure that we checkmate him so that he does not disgrace us at the competition," said a head Nigerian Football Federation official.
Messi has faced Nigeria's defense twice: the under-20 World Cup in Holland and in the Beijing Olympics in China. On both occasions he helped his country emerge victorious. Certainly to be considered one of history’s best players – right alongside countryman Diego Maradona -- Messi must win the World Cup with Argentina. Pele himself says Messi still has a ways to go.
“They are always trying to compare someone to Pele," he said. "I always joke with my Argentine friends that they must first choose who is the best player from Argentina. … Then, when one of them scores a thousand goals, then we can start talking."
Uruguay captain Diego Lugano, who faced Messi twice during South American qualifiers, said that Messi will find the defense much tougher in South Africa than he is in Spain right now.
"Opponents are going to mark him very hard and although he will make a difference because he is out of this world, it will be tougher (for him than in other tournaments),” he said.
And he’s right because, frankly, there is more talent on Barcelona than Team Argentina so defenses can focus on Messi.
It’s hard to believe it has been 24 years – and Maradona’s “Hand of God” – since the Argentines took home soccer’s biggest prize. They haven’t even reached the semis since finishing runner-up in 1990. Some soccer fans believe Maradona is dragging this team down and that his ego is part of the reason that Messi hasn’t been quite the dynamo with the national team. Remember that Argentina only finished fourth out of four automatic qualification sports in CONMEBO. It took until the 18th and final day of qualification to earn a spot in South Africa.
Teammate Javier Mascherano defended Messi after the Barcelona star took a lot of the criticism for their mediocre performances.
"We need to hit our usual high standards. None of us produced our best form during the qualifiers but Messi got all the criticism because people always expect something different from him,” he said. “I’ve seen him play some great games for the national side, in the Copa America and the Olympic Games for example.”
Argentina plays in Group B in the World Cup with Nigeria, South Korea and Greece. The Gauchos will leave for South Africa after playing Canada in a friendly on May 24 in Buenos Aires.