If you're ready to take pity on the teams participating in the Olympics Games, now's the time to do so. With a week to go before the soccer tournament kicks off, you can only imagine what Argentina has in store for its unlucky opponents.
The incredibly talented, young
With overage stars such as
Messi's inclusion will come as a relief to the Argentine camp. After weeks of heated debate surrounding his participation, the 21-year-old wunderkind put an end to speculation on Wednesday by publicly announcing that he will join the rest of his teammates in Beijing after FIFA obligated FC Barcelona to release him, despite the club's refusal to do so.
Everyone who loves soccer -- except for maybe Barcelona and Argentina's three group-stage opponents -- was praying for Messi's inclusion.
But what's scary is that Argentina could have dominated the field even without Messi's influence. Head coach and 1986 World Cup winner
And beyond the big names, there are even more players waiting to break out. One of the squad's three home-based players who are destined to make their mark is River Plate's insanely talented 20-year-old
It's this pipeline of tremendous talent that makes Argentina the most dominant team in the world when it comes to winning youth tournaments. In addition to the '04 Olympics, Argentina has won five of the last seven FIFA Under-20 World Cups, including the last two editions of the tournament.
Once again, the expectations are huge for Argentina heading into these Games. The names on the roster are perhaps even more recognizable than Brazil (led by two-time FIFA World Player of the Year
In its final preparation match before the Olympics -- a tight 1-0 victory over Japan in Tokyo on Tuesday -- Argentina found it extremely difficult to break down what it referred to as an "ultra-defensive" opponent. Japan knows its tactical limitations, and resorted to hacking to great effect, neutralizing some of Argentina's most dangerous players. Argentina's weary group opponents may adopt similar tactics.
But despite the rough treatment it's expected to receive, Argentina knows that if it sticks to its typical game plan and demonstrates the soccer we all know it can play, it will have little difficulty advancing to the quarterfinals. There, it will face a substantially harder and more adventurous side (which could well be the U.S.).
Argentina's greatest threat is South American rival Brazil. Head coach
Even if Argentina is already anticipating what would be a dream gold-medal showdown with Brazil, first it must concentrate on getting there. If it focuses on playing the kind of soccer that has characterized its game in recent years, the chances of that happening would be that much greater. At this point, Argentina -- and the pressure it puts on itself -- may be its own greatest enemy.