HAMBURG, Germany, June 8 (UPI) -- The enigma that is Argentina opens 2006 World Cup play against an Ivory Coast team making its World Cup debut.
Argentina and Ivory Coast meet in the first game for Group C, playing Saturday in Hamburg. The other Group C teams, The Netherlands and Serbia-Montenegro, meet Sunday in Leipzig.
Argentina has a strong soccer history behind it, including World Cup titles in 1978 and 1986. But then there was the 2002 tournament, in which Argentina was expected to contend but wasn't able to make it out of the first round. The question is: Which team shows up in 2006?
Even the first game isn't like to give a true picture since Argentina's 18-year-old wunderkind Lionel Messi is likely to miss it with a thigh injury.
But Argentina can still use this game to establish itself for a longer haul -- certainly a longer World Cup stay than 2002.
The match against Ivory Coast really shouldn't be taken as a sign -- unless somehow Ivory Coast wins. This is the first World Cup qualification for the team, which is led by Didier Drogba.
On the plus side, since Argentina is so mercurial, the Ivory Coast team can just prepare for its own game rather than tweaking its play to suit an opponent. It's a strategy that could make Ivory Coast stronger, Saturday and beyond.