It couldn’t be any other way, Argentina’s preliminary roster for the World Cup compensated in shock value for the delay and last-minute nature of the announcement by Argentinean manager Alejandro Sabella, who left some pretty heavy, world-class players off of the list composed by a total of 30 players, some of which are marginal and/or injured members off the “Nobody Saw ‘Em Coming” club. The roster is composed as follows (the club each player belongs to is in in parenthesis).
Goalkeepers: Sergio Romero (Monaco); Mariano Andújar (Catania); Agustín Orion (Boca Juniors).
Defense: Ezequiel Garay (Benfica) ; Federico Fernández (Napoli) ; Pablo Zabaleta (Manchester City) ; Marcos Rojo (Sporting Lisbon) ; José Basanta (Monterrey) ; Hugo Campagnaro (Inter Milan) ; Nicolás Otamendi (CA Mineiro) ; Lisandro López (Getafe) ; Gabriel Mercado (River Plate) ; Martín Demichelis (Manchester City).
Midfielders: Fernando Gago (Boca Juniors); Lucas Biglia (Lazio); Javier Mascherano (Barcelona); Ever Banega (Newell's); Angel Di María (Real Madrid); Maximiliano Rodríguez (Newell's Old Boys); Ricardo Alvarez (Inter Milan)?Augusto Fernández; (Celta); José Sosa (Atlético de Madrid); Enzo Pérez (Benfica)?; Fabián Rinaudo (Catania).
Forwards: Sergio Agüero (Manchester City)?Lionel Messi (Barcelona)?Gonzalo Higuaín (Napoli)?Ezequiel Lavezzi (Paris Saint Germain)?Rodrigo Palacio (Inter)?Franco Di Santo (Werder Bremen).
It cannot be emphasized enough that this isn’t the final list of the 23 players that will travel to Brazil for the World Cup, that list can be given as late as June 2. Anyone can be called upon or left off the team until then. However, the fact remains that these are the players Sabella prefers and that there were names included that even hardcore fans, much less the casual ones, thought were even in consideration to play for the national team like Rinaudo, Demichelis and Mercado.
There also are four currently injured players on this list, with varying degrees of recovery time: Gago, Di María, Augusto Fernández and Banega.
Players like Messi, Agüero, Di María and Higuaín are shoo-ins, but as much as the stars sell tickets, it is the team as a whole that wins the World Cup, so let’s take a look at the most controversial names on the roster and compare them to who Sabella left out.
Agustín Orión (IN)/Willy Caballero (OUT): Orión is a very good goalie, but he had a so-so semester and is not better than Caballero, who is playing at a superlative level right now and was the sole person responsible for spoiling Atletico Madrid’s title hopes last Sunday night.
In fact, Caballero is arguably better than Romero, the starter, and Andujar, the backup, as well and many believe that the number 1 jersey should be rightfully his. However, barring injury, all Caballero will be able to do is watch the World Cup on TV. Orión, meanwhile, will be a solid locker room presence as the third goalie on the roster.
Orión’s chances of making Final 23: 100%
Martín Demichelis (IN): Demichelis hasn’t played for Argentina since 2011, when he cost his team a 1-1 tie against Bolivia at home and was then promptly ignored for almost three years.
However, a solid season and a championship with Manchester City revived his World Cup chances, making Sabella forget the fear Demichelis instilled in everyone whenever he played for Argentina. Keep in mind that Demichelis himself was pleasantly surprised by being on the list, that should tell you everything you need to know. Selective memory is a funny thing.
Demichelis’ chances of making Final 23: 50%
Fabian Rinaudo (IN)/Esteban Cambiasso (OUT): Let’s call this the “Gago/Banega” corollary, because Gago is the starting defensive midfielder alongside Mascherano and Banega is his backup, but they are both injured and had been playing at a less than convincing level before suffering said injuries.
That creates a need for an extra midfielder, but instead of counting on Cambiasso’s veteran presence and the possible controversy over who should start, Sabella opted for Rinaudo, a lower profile player that could be a “break in case of emergency” backup that could not play a single minute and still be happy.
To be fair, Cambiasso may be a better player and possess World Cup experience, but he didn’t play a single minute with Argentina since Sabella took over as coach in 2011, while Rinaudo played in the first two World Cup Qualifying matches against Chile and Venezuela in 2011 and in friendlies both in 2012 and 2013.
Rinaudo’s chances to go to the World Cup could increase if Augusto Fernández, Gago and/or Banega don’t fully recover from their injury or if Lucas Biglia, who was a slightly steadier presence through the years, somehow disappoints.
Rinaudo’s chances of making Final 23: 25%
Franco Di Santo (IN)/Carlos Tévez (OUT):
This is THE BIG ONE. Di Santo, a striker that scored all of four goals in 21 matches this season for Werder Bremen, took the spot of Carlos Tevéz, the Serie A champion with Juventus, third top scorer in the Italian League with 19 goals in 33 matches, and an Argentinean fan favorite, widely considered to be ¨The People´s Forward¨.
Bummer that Carlos Tévez, Samir Nasri & Carlos Vela not chosen for World Cup, but fact is most of the best teams/players will be in Brazil.— Grant Wahl (@GrantWahl) May 13, 2014
You can try to explain things away with all the conspiracy theories you want, or say that Sabella was just being considerate by not wasting Tévez´s time if he wasn´t going to be in the World Cup roster, but there is absolutely no point in deluding ourselves and thinking that Di Santo is even remotely close in terms of talent compared to the Apache.
Odds are that Di Santo will be unceremoniously cut come June 2, since the other five forwards are untouchable and odds are that Sabella has more pressing holes to fill and won´t want to carry a sixth forward, the roster equivalent of a third goalkeeper.
Di Santo´s chances of making Final 23: 5%
It is what it is. These are the 30 players that carry the hopes of 40 million Argentineans with them. The World Cup hasn´t even begun, but the controversy has already started and won´t end until the wins that may, or have to, come eventually silence the critics.