Diego Maradona is set to unleash his formidable trio of goal poachers to get Argentina off to a flying start at the World Cup against Nigeria on Saturday.

The two-time world champions boast a salivating forward line of Lionel Messi, Carlos Tevez and Gonzalo Higuain and coach Maradona in tinkering with pitching in all three in an attacking 3-4-3 formation at Ellis Park.

Between them the dazzling trio netted more than 80 league goals last term for Barcelona, Manchester City and Real Madrid.

Argentine fans’ favourite Tevez said he hoped to “get the chance to show the coach what I can do. We have great players (and) don’t feel my place is assured.”

The Argentines may have stumbled across the finish line in qualification for South Africa 2010, but Maradona has at his disposal a squad of sumptuous talent in his first World Cup as coach.

Indications are that Maradona, who inspired Argentina as the world’s greatest player to World Cup triumph in 1986, will go with a three-man backline enabling him to field a three-man strikeforce.

Marseille centre-half Gabriel Heinze said this week that “Argentina will always go after the game” and not sit tight and be ultra-cautious.

Saturday’s opening Group B game offers Messi, the world’s best player, the ideal stage to stake an early claim as the star of the tournament, given his sensational club form with Barcelona.

“Player for player, there is no better national team than ours,” Messi said.

“At this stage I don’t have to prove anything. I’ve come there to do things well for me and for my teammates.”

Heinze moved to ease the enormous burden of expectations on Messi to perform, saying that Argentina is not dependent on the diminutive playmaker.
“Everybody expects something whenever Lionel touches the ball, that’s normal, he’s the best in the world and is in his best moment, but Argentina do not depend on him but on the group,” Heinze said.

“It’s incredible what he does but he is one more player and he can make mistakes.

“I believe it’s the team that makes you win these very difficult tournaments.”

Argentina have beaten Nigeria twice at the World Cup — 1-0 in 2002 and 2-1 in 1994 — and will be favoured to do so again.

The mood inside Africa’s most populous nation is not overly optimistic about the Super Eagles’ chances against Argentina.

But their veteran Portsmouth striker Nwankwo Kanu holds out hope that Nigeria will not be intimidated in what will be their first competitive game under Swedish coach Lars Lagerback.

“Argentina have the big-name players and everyone respects them. We also acknowledge that they are good and great players,” he said.

“But Argentina also have the same respect for us because they know the quality of our team and know that there is plenty that we can come up with at anytime.”

All the same the pressure will be on Argentina to come through their opening match in South Africa with a win to set a platform for a crack at a third world title.


Lionel Messi v Joseph Yobo

Everton defender Yobo faces one of the most challenging assignments in world football — trying to stop Messi. The reigning world footballer of the year possesses all the skills and is a real handful. How Yobo and the Nigerian defence cope with his threat will play a major part in the outcome.

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