BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Argentina’s squad for the World Cup finals is likely to comprise the following 23 players:
Goalkeepers: Sergio Romero (Monaco). Age 27; 45 caps. A big man, 1.92 meters tall, who has been the senior team’s number one since the late stages of qualifying for the 2010 finals in South Africa. Has earned coach Alejandro Sabella’s confidence despite a lack of regular first team football at his club this season. Mariano Andujar (Catania). Age 30; 8 caps. Tallest man in the squad at 1.94 meters, he helped Estudiantes de La Plata win the Libertadores Cup in 2009, setting a tournament record of 800 minutes without conceding a goal, before earning a move to Italy’s Serie A. Good in the air and on his line, he will be joining Napoli after the World Cup.
Agustin Orion (Boca Juniors). Age 32; 3 caps. One of four players in the squad playing their club football in Argentina, he began his career at San Lorenzo in 2003, spent the 2010-11 season at Estudiantes helping them win the league title under present Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella before joining Boca.
Pablo Zabaleta (Manchester City). Age 29; 36 caps. Captained Argentina to their Under-20 World Cup victory in 2005 and has also skippered City. Helped Argentina win the Olympic soccer gold medal in 2008 and has won the Premier League, the FA Cup and League Cup trophies with City.
Federico Fernandez (Napoli). Age 25; 24 caps. 1.91-metre center back who began his career at Estudiantes under Sabella. Moved to Napoli in 2013 and spent last season on loan at Getafe in Spain.
Ezequiel Garay (Benfica). Age 27; 18 caps. Center back who hails from Lionel Messi’s home town of Rosario and arrived at Racing Santander as a 19-year-old. Joined Benfica from Real Madrid in 2011 and helped the Portuguese side reach the Europa League final last year. Another of several players in the squad who played in Argentina’s trophy-winning age-group sides.
Marcos Rojo (Sporting Lisbon). Age 24; 20 caps. Another product of the Estudiantes youth scheme, he helped the club win their fourth South American Libertadores Cup and the Argentine league title in 2010 under Sabella. A tall player who has filled in as a central defender for Sporting, he arrived in Portugal via Spartak Moscow in 2012.
Hugo Campagnaro (Inter Milan). Age 33; 13 caps. Late developer who played for Argentine second division Moron and fetched up at Napoli after spells with Piacenza and Sampdoria and joined Inter last year. Survived a road accident during a holiday in Argentina in 2011 in which three people including his best friend were killed. Made his Argentina debut in February 2012 in a 3-1 win over Switzerland.
Jose Basanta (Monterrey). Age 30; 8 caps. Another defender to begin his career at Estudiantes, Sabella first called him up to play away to Bolivia at high altitude in La Paz a year ago, in a fixture Argentina had lost 6-1 under Maradona four years earlier, given his experience of rarified air at his Mexican club and against other teams in that league. Impressed enough in a 1-1 draw to become a regular.
Nicolas Otamendi (Atletico Mineiro). Age 26; 16 caps. Scored the first goal of the Sabella era in a 1-0 win over Venezuela in a friendly in Kolkatta in September 2011 but after three more appearances was overlooked until a recall for last November’s tour of the United States, making his comeback in a 2-0 win over World Cup group rivals Bosnia in St Louis.
Javier Mascherano (Barcelona). Age 30: 95 caps. The “Little Chief” who captained Argentina at the 2010 finals in South Africa, he made his name as a fine ball winner and distributor with good positional sense who has been playing in central defense for his Spanish club side for the last two seasons. Has won league titles with River Plate, Corinthians and Barca and also played for West Ham United and Liverpool in England.
Fernando Gago (Boca Juniors), Age 28; 46 caps. A product of the Boca Juniors academy, he played three seasons in the first team before moving to Real Madrid in 2007 after impressing with his vision and playmaking. Moved on to AS Roma and Valencia before returning to Boca via Velez Sarsfield last year. A key cog in Sabella’s midfield, he is nicknamed “Pintita” (smart looker) and is married to former professional tennis player Gisela Dulko.
Lucas Biglia (Lazio). Age 28; 17 caps. Reserve for Mascherano or Gago who spent seven years at Anderlecht during which he helped them win four league titles before joining Lazio in 2013.
Ever Banega (Newell’s Old Boys). Age 25; 24 caps. A Former Boca Juniors holding midfielder who returned home from Valencia to Rosario to play on loan for the team he has supported from childhood looking for regular soccer ahead of the World Cup. Missed half the 2011-12 season after a knee injury followed by a freak motor accident when his car, parked without the break on, rolled onto his left leg.
Augusto Fernandez (Celta Vigo). Age 28; 7 caps. Member of the last River Plate side to win the Argentine league title under Diego Simeone in 2008. Had a first spell in Europe at St Etienne, then returned home and won the Argentine title with Velez Sarsfield in 2011. Moved to Celta in 2012.
Jose Sosa (Atletico Madrid). Age 28; 19 caps. Skilled attacking midfielder who emerged from Estudiantes and played for Bayern Munich, Napoli and Metalist Kharkiv before moving on loan to Atletico this year hoping to enhance his World Cup chances.
Maxi Rodriguez (Newell’s Old Boys). Age 33; 52 caps. Right wing nicknamed “Fiera” (wildcat) for his never-say-die attitude who scored the outstanding goal of the 2006 finals, a looping left-footed volley after cushioning the ball on his chest from well outside the box for the winner in Argentina’s 2-1 extra-time victory over Mexico in the second round which has now been viewed over half a million times on YouTube. An incisive runner who likes to cut diagonally into the box, he was mainly a reserve under Maradona as he is for Sabella. Has scored 14 goals for Argentina.
Angel Di Maria (Real Madrid). Age 26; 45 caps. Slim, dynamic left winger nicknamed “Fideo” (noodle) who pops up all over the attack, is very hard to mark or stop, scores goals and lays on brilliant passes for fellow attackers in abundance. Has retained his place at Real Madrid despite the supposed threat of competition from Gareth Bale on the left flank and was the outstanding player in their Copa del Rey final win over Barcelona in April.
Lionel Messi (Barcelona). Age 26; 84 caps. World’s top player, a multiple title-winner with his club, small and nicknamed “Pulga” (flea), with exceptional ball control at speed, some of whose skills are reminiscent of Diego Maradona. He is the all-time second highest scorer for his country with 37 goals, 19 behind Gabriel Batistuta having overtaken Hernan Crespo (35) and Maradona (34) last year, yet remarkably has a record of only one in seven appearances at two World Cup finals which he scored in the 6-0 rout of Serbia in 2006. Will turn 27 on June 24.
Gonzalo Higuain (Napoli). Age 26; 36 caps. Brilliant finisher who scored a World Cup hat-trick against South Korea in 2010, he was also eligible for France having been born in Brest where his defender father “Pipa”, hence the nickname “Pipita”, played. An intelligent player who prefers to run onto passes but will also do a good job with his back to goal holding the ball up, he has a tally of 20 international goals.
Sergio Aguero (Manchester City). Age 26; 50 caps. Nicknamed “Kun” after a Japanese cartoon character, Brazilian club mate Fernandinho says he is one of the funniest people he knows. A regular scorer for his club side, with tremendous ability and agility to turn defenders, a penalty box menace for the best defences, he has 21 Argentina goals. Father of Diego Maradona’s first grandson Benjamin.
Rodrigo Palacio (Inter Milan). Age 32; 21 caps. A reserve striker at the 2006 finals under Jose Pekerman, Sabella regards him as one of his most tactically astute players. An exception to the recent rule that Argentine talents move to Europe young, he left Boca Juniors for Genoa at 27 in 2009 and moved on to Inter in 2012.
Ezequiel Lavezzi (Paris St Germain). Age 28; 29 caps. “Pocho” (chubby one) is a temperamental, highly skilled forward who has at times got on the wrong side of officials but at others thrilled fans with his skills at speed. Arrived at PSG from Napoli, where he became a favorite of the Maradona-adoring Naples fans, after making his name at San Lorenzo.
Compiled by Rex Gowar