Manager: Sergio Batista
Group: A (with Bolivia, Colombia and Costa Rica)
Copa America title betting odds: Evens
Qualifying for quarter-finals odds: n/a
Group winner odds: 9/50
Finishing in the top two in group odds: 1/100
Copa America 2007 performance: Runners-up
Best Copa America performance: Winners (1921, 1925, 1927, 1929, 1937, 1941, 1945, 1946, 1947, 1955, 1957, 1959, 1991, 1993)
How are they shaping up?
Much is expected of host nation Argentina at the 2011 Copa America and, with Lionel Messi at the disposal of coach Sergio Batista, it is little wonder that la Albiceleste go into the tournament as favourites in bwin’s football betting market. But while Batista can call on the 2009 and 2010 Fifa World Player of the Year – along with the likes of Angel di Maria, Gonzalo Higuain, Carlos Tevez, Sergio Aguero and Javier Mascherano to name but a few – Argentina’s form going into the South American showpiece does not inspire confidence.
Their last match might have been a 4-0 demolition of Albania, but their two previous fixtures ended in embarrassing reverses. First, Nigeria beat Argentina 4-1 in Abuja on 1st June and Poland followed this up with a 2-1 success four days later.
While la Albiceleste were not at full strength for either match, with Batista having taken the opportunity to test a number of youngsters on the international stage, there are concerns at home in Argentina that the coach’s preparations for the future could be detrimental in the short term. Indeed, while the two-times World Cup winners have a settled formation – Batista wants to mimic Barcelona in order to get the best out of Messi – the players are not yet comfortable in the system, particularly defensively.
Nevertheless, the sum of Argentina’s parts still make them formidable opponents and it is perhaps for this reason more than any other that they have been installed as bwin’s evens favourites.
Lionel Messi Caps: 56 Goals: 17
At the age of 24, Messi is already widely acknowledged not only as the best player on the planet but also as one of the best players of all time. As such, he is expected to light up the Copa America, particularly given how the tournament is being played in his home country. However, while wearing the blue and white of Argentina Messi has failed to consistently hit the kind of form he shows for club side Barcelona, with his goals tally an illustration in point. He has scored just 17 times in 56 appearances for his country yet notched more than 50 for Barca last season alone. That said, even a below-par Messi is capable of putting the most talented of teammates in the shade.
While Argentina go into the tournament with a number of question marks hanging over them, with a partisan crowd cheering them on it would be foolish to count them out. Indeed, as the second-best team in South America according to the Fifa World Rankings, they should at least reach the semi-finals. Whether they can go on from there will depend on how the team gels as a unit once Batista settles on his preferred starting XI.
Verdict: Beaten finalists