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Guest Post: Argentina's Lacklustre Copa America: Part Two

by Finbarr 22. July 2011 06:55

 

In the second in a series of guest blogs for Icons, Daniel Colasimone, editor of the excellent Argentina Football World, gets to the root of Argentina's Copa America failure. 

There was little improvement to be noted in Argentina’s second game against Colombia. I had bussed it up to the city of Santa Fe the previous day with my ‘Hand of Pod’ colleague Dan Edwards, not knowing whether we would be allowed into the game or not.

Even accredited journalists are required by tournament organisers to apply for tickets to each game, and we often do not find out whether we’re in or not until the day before – which has caused quite a lot of inconvenience for those of us travelling around for games. Being (relatively) young and (allegedly) reckless, we decided to risk it, and in on every occasion we have ended up with match tickets.    

The Selección once again lacked cohesion against a promising young Colombian team in the atmospheric stadium known as ‘The Elephant’s Graveyard’. Again, Messi probed, the strikers missed chances and Batista switched between his two stock formations. In the end, Argentina were lucky to escape with a 0-0 draw, with Colombia looking more likely to score in the second half.

Notably, the Santa Fe crowd, who had been so supportive to begin with, began to turn on their own team. Messi’s head dropped noticeably as he was well marshalled by the excellent Colombians, especially defensive midfielder Carlos Sanchez.

The roadshow of mediocrity moved on to Cordoba, the blondest city in Argentina due to a high proportion of families with German blood. ‘Che’ Guevara spent most of his childhood there, and perhaps Batista was overwhelmed by a similar revolutionary zeal when he decided to drop Tevez, Lavezzi, Cambiasso and Banega for Agüero, Di Maria, Gago and Higuain and fully embrace the least worst of his two plans, the 4-2-1-3 attacking formation, for the must-win match against Costa Rica.

The renamed and revamped Mario Alberto Kempes stadium proved to be a booming stronghold, with the boisterous locals expressing their support for Argentina, and Messi especially. ‘Messi, we believe in you’ and ‘Messi: They talk a lot, but they know little’ were two of the banners displayed by fans, after the Barcelona man had once again unfairly been allotted much of the blame for Argentina’s shoddy performances so far by certain clueless factions of the local media.

And the little genius repaid the people of Cordoba in kind. He turned in an astounding performance, setting up a dozen gilt-edged goalscoring opportunities for his strikers. If they had not been so wasteful, the game could have finished 8-0. As it was, Argentina won by three clear goals, and qualified for the quarter finals.

Their inability to finish first in Group A meant that instead of staying in Cordoba for the quarter finals, Edwards and I had to roadtrip it back to Santa Fe where Argentina would take on fellow Copa America heavy hitters Uruguay. 

Tomorrow, the final part of Daniel's analysis will offer 5 simple reasons why Argentina failed. You can read Part One here.

Guest Post: Argentina's Lacklustre Copa America: Part One

by Finbarr 22. July 2011 06:30

 

In the first of a series of guest blogs for Icons, Daniel Colasimone, editor of the excellent Argentina Football World, gets to the root of Argentina's Copa America failure. 

Having travelled around to watch Argentina’s four games in this Copa America the recurring theme surrounding their insipid campaign seems to have been not so much the lack of a game plan but the lack of tactical flexibility required to discover an effective game plan.

Coach Sergio Batista, after a honeymoon period lasting several months, was on the receiving end of heavy criticism from the local press leading into the tournament. Some of it was justified.

Batista failed badly on the man-management side of things, especially regarding the Carlos Tevez affair. After insisting for months that Tevez was surplus to requirements, on the eve of the tournament, Batista did a complete about face and named the Manchester City forward in his squad. He even went so far as to select him in his starting line-up for the opening two games.

Hollow press conferences where he spoke without conveying any actual information and a penchant for posting kitschy pictures on Twitter further estranged Batista from the Argentine media. Going into the tournament, Batista's ideas for the national team did not seem too outrageous at all, at least in my mind. He spoke of exploiting Argentina's greatest asset, Lionel Messi, to his full potential.

He spoke of a Barcelona-style formation, designed to allow Messi to feel most comfortable and to take advantage of Argentina’s abundance of adept passing midfielders and skilful forwards. Batista’s ‘Plan B’, should the Barcelona-cloned 4-3-3 fail to function, would be to switch to a 4-2-1-3, with Messi as enganche (playmaker) behind three forwards. Well and good.

The Selección’s first match was against supposed whipping boys Bolivia in the shiny, roofed La Plata stadium. It’s a newly improved stadium, unique in Argentina that it is not rundown and exposed to the elements, but also in that it lacks much of the atmosphere of most grounds here.

Batista made his first tactical mistake before the match started by, as I’ve already mentioned, shoehorning the people’s choice, Carlos Tevez into the starting XI in place of Angel Di Maria, who had started on the left side of attack in recent friendlies. His midfield three was Javier Mascherano, Ever Banega and Esteban Cambiasso; all ‘number fives’ ostensibly – defensive midfielders with passing ability – with Messi in the ‘false 9’ role in the centre of the front three.

Cambiasso was curiously the midfielder usually found furthest forward, however, rather than the player expected to combine most with Messi, Banega. It didn’t work, and Argentina looked just as lacking in team fluidity as during last year’s World Cup.

Messi left defenders for dead but found nobody to link up with. Tevez went on solo runs that were easily halted by well-positioned defenders. There was no overriding thought pattern linking everything together.

At half time Batista switched to Plan B, bringing on Di Maria for Cambiasso, but Bolivia had scored within minutes of the restart. Argentina at least looked more dangerous, and eventually levelled through substitute Kun Agüero who volleyed in superbly. Bolivia, however, held on for the draw.

Perhaps Bolivia had come to this Copa America with a newfound resolve? Perhaps they would be the surprise packets of the tournament? We would find out in later group games that it was in fact a very limited Bolivian outfit, further damning Argentina’s performance in retrospect.

A post-match interview with one of the Argentine players may have taken the edge of the freezing polar winds that could be felt in all corners of the Estadio Único, but the mixed zone turned out to be an unregulated zoo. Short of crowd surfing my way to the front, there was no way of getting a word with Mascherano, Agüero and co. 

Stay tuned next week for Parts Two and Three of Daniel's assessment of Argentina's Copa America shambles...

Copa America Preview Day One: Group A

by Finbarr 28. June 2011 10:58

It wouldn't be summer without an international tournament and after the relative let down that was the 2010 World Cup, the lense is coming into focus over the continent of South America. The Copa America 2011 is almost here and it promises to be one of the best in living memory.

In the run up to Friday's kick off, we're going to be giving you a daily dose of previews, providing team by team guides. We'll be offering tips and suggestions as to who to watch out for and telling you who we think the Icons of Copa America 2011 are going to be. Today, we start with Group A.

Argentina

 

The history: Alongside Uruguay, Argentina are the most successful team in Copa America history with 14 wins. Their last victory, though, was Ecuador '93 when a side inspired by all time greats Batistuta and Redondo defeated Mexico in the final. Defeated finalists last time out, La Albiceleste will be hoping substance trumps style on the big stage, having flattered to deceive in major tournaments of late.

The star players: Where to start with this current crop? The conveyer belt of Argentinian playmakers has been in overdrive of late... you can take your pick from Icons' own Leo Messi and Kun Aguero (above), Carlos Tevez and Angel Di Maria,  Diego Milito and Javier Pastore.

One to watch: Ever Banega has been pulling up trees in La Liga with Valencia this season. This is a chance for the classy midfielder to make his mark on the international stage.

Impress your mates:The great Fernando Redondo missed Argentina's 1998 finals campaign because he refused to obey coach Daniel Passarella's instructions to cut his hair.

Colombia

 

The history: The Colombians have a surprisingly poor record in the Copa America, despite churning out some of the continent's finest exports over the years. Their sole victory came on home soil in 2001, when they beat Mexico 1-0 in the final. Perhaps one of their most notorious contributions to the tournament's history was when eccentric, goalscoring 'keeper Jorge Campos threw a hilarious hissy fit after scoring an own goal against Venezuela in 1995.

The star players: Since the appointment of Andre Villas Boas as Chelsea boss, Radamel Falcao (above) of Porto has been strongly linked with the London club. Alongside Brazilian Hulk, he has been prolific in front of goal over the past season, firing a record 18 goals in the Europa League.

One to watch: Premier League fans will be interested to see how Wigan's Hugo Rodallega cuts it on the international stage, whilst there has been some clamour for the signature of Udinese defender Cristian Zapata over recent weeks.

Impress your mates: Colombia were involved in the highest scoring draw in World Cup history: a 4-4 tie with the Soviet Union way back in 1962.

Bolivia

 

The history: Bolivia are traditionally one of the weakest of the South American nations and are currently on an unenviable run of not winning a game since 1997. They have, however, lifted the trophy - way back in 1963 and it's no coincidence that their best performances have been on the extreme altitude of home soil. 

The star players: The majority of the Bolivian players ply their trade within the country, meaning outside South America they are something of an unknown quantity. Again, fans of Wigan may recognise the striker Marcelo Martins (above), who played on loan for them last season. Bolivia's highest profile player, he's been on the books of Shakhtar Donetsk since 2008 without really making a breakthrough.

One to watch: As one of the youngest players of the tournament, it might be worth keeping your eye on Juan Carlos Arce.

Impress your mates: In 2007, a physiotherapist admitted prescribing Viagra to the Bolivian national team to help them play at high altitude in the capital of La Paz.

Costa Rica

 

The history: Costa Rica are taking part in their fourth Copa America, having been invited to replace Japan following the earthquake and tsunami tragedies earlier this year. Despite being outsiders, their record is respectable and the Central Americans have twice been quarter finalists.

The star players: ... are all at home. Having competed in the Gold Cup earlier this summer, the squad taken by Ricardo La Volpe is young and experimental, with no household names. Randall Brenes (pictured) is the squad's top scorer with four international goals, but this should be a learning curve for all involved.

One to watch: Take your pick. There are nine uncapped players in the squad and only three have reached double figures for appearances. 

Impress your mates: The worst turnout for a Football World Cup qualifier was recorded in Costa Rica in 2006, when no one at all turned up to watch Costa Rica play Panama in a CONCACAF qualifier.

Don't forget to visit tomorrow to get your Group B Preview. Also, check out our fantastic range of Copa America merchandise, featuring Maradona, Messi, Kaka, Aguero, Suarez and Passarella.

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