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World Cup tune-up revelations—Mexico, Argentina, Nigeria, and Bosnia

Lionel Messi
Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

A week ago yesterday, a FIFA friendlies avalanche produced more telling results than routine ones. Some final score lines were downright revelations, peeks at what may come this summer in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. In a series of articles we dissect the significance of 16 of those matches.

Egypt 2, Bosnia 0

Egypt, FIFA’s 26th ranked team played Bosnia Herzegovina, the 21st ranked team, for the first time ever in Innsbruck, Austria, Wednesday, March 5, 2014. The Egyptians won 2-0 thanks to goals from Gedo (52’) and Mohamed Salah (64’), but their dominance was such that Bosnia’s best scoring chance, a long range shot, took place at the 78th minute (http://bit.ly/1fgkyIK).

What was interesting about this game is that Bosnia is in Group F with Argentina, Nigeria and Iran, and this game showcased just how outclassed the Bosnians seem to be in their Brazilian excursion. Egypt lost to Ghana in the qualifiers but they seemed impressive enough on the night.

Bosnia seemed out of their depth and the revelation here is that unless they improve quite a bit between now and then, or can conjure up performances of yore, they may well be their group’s greater punching bag come this summer.

Mexico 0, Nigeria 0

Mexico played hosts to Nigeria in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, USA Wednesday, March 6, 2014, and the two World Cup bound teams, both vying for progression in groups with finals favorites, seemed to be playing well if scoring little (http://bit.ly/1hWqivO ).

The match did not include Mexican strikers Carlos Vela or Giovani dos Santos who could have provided that final offensive push for the hosts. The Nigerians were at full strength.

The game was fast moving and exciting as if both teams had found their respective formulas going forward if not yet settled on their rosters. There were any number of great plays that resulted in superb saves from Mexico’s goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa, and both of Nigeria’s keepers, Vincent Enyeama in the first half and his second half replacement Austin Ejide.

Mexico has been building up steam since its poor showing in the qualifiers that saw them have to go into a playoff against New Zealand to make it to Brazil. Their umpteenth coach is Miguel Herrera whose international pedigree is slight but he has been able to preside over the Tri’s best efforts and if he can convince Vela to join the team his role may be mostly done.

Mexico and Nigeria’s veterans are the heart of each team and when they show up both teams are competitive on their days. Though Mexico seems doomed to fall in its group the revelation here is that the Tri are a dangerous team when all cylinders are clicking and they seem to be headed in that direction, finally. For Nigeria, coupled with powerhouse Argentina but what seem a weak Iran and Bosnia, in Group F, has a real chance to advance and maybe do some damage thereafter.

Argentina 0, Romania 0

Lionel Messi’s gang played Romania on Wednesday, March 6, 2014, in Bucharest, Romania, and despite the diminutive Argentine’s illness (Messi threw up on the pitch) they played great flowing football and were unlucky to see the ball in the net (http://bit.ly/1hYJQQO). Truth be told, though, so were the Romanian’s unlucky as the only ball that met the nets was their score, called back for what proved to be a mistaken off sides call.

One of the 2014 World Cup favorites, Argentina, has had an interesting reputation during the Messi era. When they are playing friendlies they play superbly but and when they play for the World Cup, qualifiers or finals, or other international tournaments, they fall apart. They lost to Paraguay, Bolivia, and Ecuador, by a combined 9-1 in the 2010 World Cup CONMEBOL qualifiers before making it as the fourth qualifier from South America. Then, at South Africa, they got clobbered by Germany 4-0 in the quarterfinals. They hosted the 2011 Copa America only to come in second in their group behind Colombia and then lose to Uruguay in the quarterfinals.

So what was new about this game, what was the revelation? In fact, there was no new revelation just a crystal clear underlining of what everyone seems to know, or should know, about Argentina. They are as talented if not more so than any one of the 2014 World Cup’s top contenders, they have the best player on the planet on their team, they come into the cup as the top team in South America, and they will play this tournament on their home continent. Nevertheless, as this game so clearly showed, all that talent, without a healthy and in-form Messi, will get them nowhere.