After 16 years, Diego Armando Maradona makes his return to the FIFA World Cup™ in South Africa. The Argentinian bowed out of world football’s showpiece in 1994 after Argentina's match against Nigeria, a team he now faces as head coach tomorrow in the opening match in Group B.
The Africans, meanwhile, will be looking to avenge the defeat in the final of the Olympic Football Tournament 2008 in China, where La Albiceleste triumphed with a number of players who will be present in Johannesburg. They will be hopeful Swedish coach Lars Lagerback, one of the masterminds behind Argentina’s elimination from 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan™, will help them settle an old score.
Having come through a difficult qualifying campaign, the Argentinians are ready to start afresh in South Africa and, for the third time in a row, an African side will provide their first test - in 2002, they edged out Nigeria in a 1-0 win, while in 2006 they were 2-1 victors against Côte d'Ivoire. Maradona has at his disposal two of the top goalscorers in Europe this season as they look to secure their third consecutive victory over an African side: Lionel Messi and Gonzalo Higuain, who amassed an astonishing 61 goals between them. Starting hopeful Carlos Tevez, for his part, notched up another 22 for Manchester City.
The Super Eagles also struggled during the qualifying phase, although they will be hopeful head coach Lagerback can help them rediscover their rhythm. They will go into this game anxious to reverse the trend of their previous two FIFA World Cup encounters with the Argentinians, in 1994 and 2002, which saw La Albiceleste run out winners on both occasions. They will look to exploit their 'home' advantage, and also build on their recent 3-1 friendly victory over Korea DPR.
The Argentinian scored 27 goals for Real Madrid in La Liga last season, and has reproduced the same clinical form for his country: he has found the net twice in four games and seems ready to add to that tally. "My dream is to be among the top scorers at the World Cup", Higuain said on his arrival in South Africa. To fulfil that dream he must first find a way past Vincent Enyeama, one of the few Nigerians to have kept his place in the Super Eagles' rearguard despite constant changes to their defensive formation. Enyeama, whose reflexes have earned him the nickname 'The Cat', already boasts FIFA World Cup experience, including a clean sheet against England in Korea/Japan 2002.
10 – The number of players that took part in the final of the Olympic Football Tournament Beijing 2008 who will come face to face again in Johannesburg: Sergio Romero, Angel Di Maria, Javier Mascherano, Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero, Dele Adeleye, Sani Kaita, Peter Odemwingie, Chinedu Ogbuke and Victor Obinna.
What they said
"Nigeria is a physically strong side capable of creating problems in attack. However, I think they are still a little disorganised in defence. That’s where we have to make the most of our potential," Diego Armando Maradona, Argentina coach.
Voice of the fans
"Great game in prospect. I reckon Argentina will win because their attacking style will push Nigeria back. That’s where the game will be won by Argentina, who I am supporting along with all the other South American teams." FIFA.com user AlanLeo-URU