The contenders: Argentina
Our countdown continues of the top-ranked teams heading into the World Cup. A reminder, these aren't our rankings, but FIFA's last computations before the tournament begins.
So far, we previewed: 9) France | 8) England
Our list continues with one of the most talented teams on the planet ...
Group: B - Nigeria, South Korea, Greece
World Cup history: 2 titles (1978, 1986); Argentina made a nice run a few decades ago with three finals appearances in four tournaments, taking home its only two titles in the process.
5 key players: Leo Messi (Barcelona), Gonzalo Higuain (Real Madrid), Juan Sebastian Veron (Estudiantes de La Plata), Carlos Tevez (Manchester City), Javier Mascherano (Liverpool)
>> Read about Argentina's stars and other players to watch at the 2010 World Cup
Coach: Diego Maradona
Outlook: Pick your poison. That's the approach for opposing defenses assigned the task of trying to stop Argentina's lethal attack this summer in South Africa. Consider this: The hero striker that scored twice in Inter Milan's Champions League final triumph may be the team's fourth option on the front line. Diego Milito may have to come off the bench behind star forwards Lionel Messi (best player on the planet), Gonzalo Higuain (Real Madrid's top scorer) and Carlos Tevez (fan favorite) if Argentina employs a 4-3-3. It's a wonder how this team barely qualified, going 8-4-6 en route to a fourth-place finish - behind Chile and Paraguay -- in the CONMEBOL region.
Then again, the man pulling the strings is none other than Diego Maradona, one of the greatest players of all time but a far less accomplished coach. His tenure as the head honcho has been nothing short of strange, both with his on-the-field decisions and off-the-field actions. Just in the last month, he's made headlines for running over a journalist and promising to strip nude should Argentina win the World Cup. He's wearing a beard because his dog bit his face. Yup -- fans are always on edge waiting to see what he's going to do next. Maradona, however is confident, saying: "I have 23 wildcats prepared to leave their skins on the pitch."
Although Maradona commands attention, all eyes will be on Messi this summer. Some say he's a World Cup title away from leaping into the "best player ever" coversation -- and he's only 22. Critics have said he's only put on a show for his club team, Barcelona, and needs to make an impact at the international level to be recognized as a complete player.
He'll have some help. Veteran Juan Sebastian Veron is back with the team after missing the 2006 tournament and the two-time South American Player of the Year has tried to take Messi under his wing. Maxi Rodriguez (remember this goal?) and Angel di Maria are dangerous options on the wing. The defensive unit is led by a pair of Champions League finalists, Martin Demichelis of Bayern Munich and Walter Samuel of Inter Milan.
Will Maradona screw this up? Some think he might. Argentina can blow teams out, 5-0, or lose heartberakers, 2-1. Getty ready for a wild ride this summer.
Prediction: Despite Maradona, Messi leads Argentina to the top of Group B with seven points.
Goalkeepers: Sergio Romero (AZ Alkmaar), Mariano Andujar (Catania), Diego Pozo (Colon)
Defenders: Nicolas Otamendi (Velez Sarsfield), Martin Demichelis (Bayern Munich), Walter Samuel (Inter Milan), Gabriel Heinze (Marseille), Nicolas Burdisso (AS Roma), Clemente Rodriguez (Estudiantes), Ariel Garce (Colon)
Midfielders: Jonas Gutierrez (Newcastle), Maximiliano Rodriguez (Liverpool), Javier Mascherano (Liverpool), Juan Sebastian Veron (Estudiantes), Angel Di Maria (Benfica), Javier Pastore (Palermo), Mario Bolatti (Fiorentina)
Forwards: Lionel Messi (Barcelona), Gonzalo Higuain (Real Madrid), Martin Palermo (Boca Juniors), Sergio Aguero (Atletico Madrid), Diego Milito (Inter Milan), Carlos Tevez (Manchester City)