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Unlikely Stars of the World Cup – No. 2: Ángel di María (Left Wing)

March 15, 2010 Leave a comment

To describe Argentina’s di María as a potentially unlikely star of the World Cup is a little disingenuous. He clearly doesn’t have the profile of a Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo, yet he was subject to interest from Manchester United in the January transfer window, and is generally viewed as a supremely talented prospect for many of Europe’s top clubs. An intrinsic part of Benfica’s current-season resurgence, di María’s ball control is excellent (although perhaps not Messi-standard), his shot technique ridiculous, and his running explosive. Everton were ripped-apart by Benfica on the two occasions when the teams met in this season’s Europa League, with di María a central influence in both games.

Although yet another untested South American teenager at the time of his transfer to Benfica, di María’s fee of €8 million from Rosario Central is beginning to look particularly cheap. Not only does he have a minimum fee release clause of €40 million, should he help Benfica break Porto’s recent monopoly on success in the Portuguese Liga (Sagres) and so qualify for the Champions League proper (which is looking increasingly likely), the club will have received a substantial return on their investment.

If di María had one weakness, it was his lack of apparent goalscoring ability. However, having gone some way to allay such concerns this season for both club and country, there is no reason to presume that he won’t prove to be a success at the World Cup this summer.

Perhaps the biggest hindrance upon di María’s World Cup performance shall be the squad in which he his playing. Whilst it’s all-too-tempting to blame the vagaries of a national coach who avoids training in the morning to prioritise his lie-in whilst ascribing all success and failure to simple acts of fate, there are wider issues facing the Argentine squad. It is undoubtedly something of an unbalanced team – there are far too many attacking midfielders rather than out-and-out strikers, although the rapid emergence of Gonzalo Higuaín is making this concern ever more redundant. Likewise, there is a genuine lack of defensive and goalkeeping talent. Despite criticism aimed at Maradona over his refusal to pick Internazionale’s Walter Samuel, it would be fair to say that he is somewhat past his best. That is no to say that the situation has not significantly improved in the last few months. Argentine players, from Carlos Tévez to the much-maligned Éver Banega and Juan Sebastián Verón, besides the usual suspects, are having superb seasons. The contrast with a team such as England could hardly be more stark where, the incredibly impressive form of Rooney aside, there are few prospective World Cup squad players having anything other than disappointing years.

When Argentina beat Germany recently in Munich they displayed a strength in organisation that was also present in the very last moments of their World Cup qualifying campaign. For a team which has several of the world’s most talented players, the British, if not global, media’s dismissal of Argentina is founded on the naive belief that Maradona’s rather chaotic approach to life will transfer directly to his team.

Weaknesses in defence aside, there is no reason why Argentina cannot be viewed as potential winners of the World Cup with di María emerging as one of football’s global stars.