Ricky Villa : Brazil are team to beat, my boys will do well...but beware Paraguay!

In his first column for 'The Independent' the former Argentina international is impressed by his fellow countrymen, and says watch out for Japan and Mexico
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The Independent Football

I like the look of this current Argentinian team. They have some great individuals which I believe is importantissimo , as we say in South America. Some of the players, like the centre-backs Gabriel Heinze and Roberto Ayala, have lacked match practice due to injury but I have good expectations. Argentina should be among the four semi-finalists.

I think Lionel Messi could be fundamental, alongside Juan Roman Riquelme, as together they can give us that category that every team needs to be among the best. Our manager Jose Pekerman likes players with good feet and that fills me with dreams.

Some critics have said that Riquelme is a bit slow for the the highest level, but I disagree. Historically there were big differences between South American and European styles of play but nowadays our football is more similar. Argentinian football is faster than before but that doesn't necessarily improve the spectacle. Riquelme is a sure and confident player and it doesn't matter if he is one-paced because he thinks quickly and sees the spaces. He has a good left foot, a good right foot and great vision.

Argentina will line up with a 4-3-1-2 formation with Riquelme as the one, the free man with a licence to roam, and to counter-balance this, two defensive midfielders, Cambiasso and Mascherano, will play behind him.

Messi hasn't played in a competitive match since injuring his thigh playing for Barcelona against Chelsea in February and, on a fitness level, Pekerman says he's not quite at 10 yet, but 8 or 9, so he will start on the bench against the Ivory Coast with either Javier Saviola or Carlos Tevez partnering Hernan Crespo up front. The latest reports suggest it will be Saviola who plays from the start though I am sure Tevez will feature, and he could also emerge as another key individual.

Tevez, like Riquelme, comes from a very poor area of Buenos Aires but has managed the incredible feat of gaining popularity in both Argentina and Brazil. He became the most expensive player transferred between two South American clubs when he moved from Boca Juniors to Corinthians for £14m 18 months ago, and there is now talk that Chelsea are interested in signing him after the World Cup. He's nicknamed "the Hyena" and the Brazilians like him because he's always laughing and dancing, though I'm not sure what Jose Mourinho would make of that! Similar to Wayne Rooney in build and style, Tevez likes to drop deep and link the play.

A lot of people have asked me why Javier Zanetti didn't make the Argentinian squad and I think it's because he's more suited to an attacking wing-back role while Pekerman wants to play a back four with a more defensive player on the right. Lionel Scaloni, who played for West Ham in the FA Cup final, is in the squad as he is more flexible.

Our left-back Juan Pablo Sorin says Pekerman has given him instructions not to push forward against the Ivory Coast. The Africans like to counter attack and it is essential that Sorin does not get caught too far up the pitch in the opening game, which we must not lose.

As for other teams, Brazil are everybody's candidates to win the World Cup and mine too. Fundamentally, because I don't think they feel the pressure and just enjoy playing. That's very courageous these days. However, they won't have it easy because other teams are going to have that little bit of extra incentive when they're confronting the favourites.

And the English? Well, I watch a lot of English football and I believe it's their best team for four World Cups. Rooney's injury is a severe blow as he's a player of world prestige but there's still a high percentage of quality in the rest of the team. As well as David Beckham, there's Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Michael Owen and John Terry, all individually good players, so that means there are five players of the first level. It's probable that Rooney will play in the second phase and, if so, this will carry England to their maximum potential and they should also be in the final four.

I think it's going to be very difficult for Germany to win the tournament but their history and the fact that they are the hosts favours them so I think they will finish in the final eight.

My 1978 team-mate Mario Kempes, who now works as a pundit, reckons Japan will be this World Cup's surprise package, and another of my old '78 team-mates, reserve goalkeeper Ricardo La Volpe, is now the manager of Mexico. He has some very skilful players in his squad and I know they are very well prepared. I think Mexico could go a long way.

Finally, be careful with Paraguay! They beat both Brazil and Argentina in the qualifiers and are a strong, physical team. They play long balls on the counter-attack and may also cause a few surprises.