BELO HORIZONTE, Brazil (AP) — It’s hard to think of another team in the World Cup that could leave a player like Gonzalo Higuain on the bench.
The Napoli target player is normally coach Alejandro Sabella’s first choice to link up with Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero in Argentina’s three-man attack.
But it was Ezequiel Lavezzi who was playing with the presumed starters at the beginning of Argentina’s practice Thursday, three days before the team’s World Cup opener against Bosnia-Herzegovina.
That could suggest that Higuain isn’t back to full fitness, even though he no longer appears to be bothered by an ankle injury that’s kept him sidelined since May. It could also mean that Sabella favors Lavezzi’s speed over Higuain’s aerial game against the tall Bosnian defense.
With 21 goals, the 26-year-old Higuain is the Argentine squad’s second highest scorer, after Messi. Higuain scored 25 goals in 46 games for Napoli this season.
Lavezzi, 29, scored 12 times for Paris Saint Germain in 2013-2014. He has four goals for Argentina.
Another prolific striker, Carlos Tevez of Juventus, was left out of the squad altogether.
Argentina’s defense may not have the same wealth of talent in the defense, but center back Ezequiel Garay didn’t agree with a Brazilian reporter who called it “soft” in a news conference Thursday.
“We are a compact team in which everyone helps out in defense,” Garay said.
Midfielder Lucas Biglia said it’s wrong to assume that strength in one part of the game means weakness in another.
“Argentina is a very offensive team, but that doesn’t mean that the defense is soft,” Biglia said.
Argentina, chasing its first World Cup title since 1986, faces tournament debutant Bosnia on Sunday in Rio de Janeiro.
Karl Ritter can be reached on Twitter at https://twitter.com/Karl_Ritter