Argentina 1 – 1 Ecuador

Thank Rod for that...

Following the experimentation of the North American friendlies last week, it was back to serious business for the selección on Sunday night, with a World Cup qualifier against Ecuador which was expected to be a mere warm up for the midweek clash away to Brazil. It proved a little trickier than that, though, with Argentina’s poor performance epitomised by a pathetic showing from Boca Juniors playmaker Juan Román Riquelme. Ecuador scored a brilliant goal midway through the first half to take the lead, and held it all the way into the fourth minute of stoppage time, when Riquelme’s Boca club-mate Rodrigo Palacio did what none of his highly-paid, Europe-based colleagues had managed during the match, and stuck the ball in the net with almost the final kick of the game.

The Argentine press are singularly unimpressed by the performance, which nonetheless leaves Argentina second in the South American World Cup qualifiying table behind Paraguay, who beat Brazil 2-0 in Asunción after playing the entire second half with ten men. Having experimented with a 3-4-1-2 without Juan Román Riquelme for the two matches in the States, in which Lionel Messi played just behind Julio Cruz and Sergio Agüero, Alfio Basile for some reason reverted to the Boca man when it really mattered – but in the same system, and with both the little men ahead of him. He was rewarded for the change of plan by Riquelme’s worst performance for his country since he returned to the squad for last year’s Copa América, one so bad that it’s now being questioned whether Román should even travel to Brazil.

The Boca playmaker had an illness prior to his club’s Copa Libertadores semi-final second leg with Fluminense which left him looking noticeably off the pace in Rio de Janeiro, and led to remarks about the need to ‘eat a lot’ to regain the 3 kilos he’d lost during the week of his stomach virus. Why, in this condition, Basile kept him in the side, immediately after having played two matches with a system designed precisely to work out what would happen without JRR, is anyone’s guess. Riquelme in tandem with Juan Sebastián Verón (Argentina’s best player, on his own return to the national setup), and Messi in tandem with Agüero – and yet the side lacked creativity…

For all that, the quality of Ecuador’s opener wasn’t in dispute. A wonderful passage of play saw the ball knocked down by Carlos Tenorio for Patricio Urrutia, who lashed a dipping shot from twenty yards out which flew over Roberto Abbondanzieri and into the Argentine goal. Ecuador defended solidly and worked hard all over the pitch, and with Riquelme’s ineffectiveness exacerbated by Basile’s unwillingness to substitute him – instead it was Verón who made way for the eventual saviour Palacio – Argentina suffered. In the final minutes of the match, Riquelme – normally the first and only candidate for set-pieces – wasn’t even taking the free kicks. What, then, was the point in his being on the pitch?

Deep into stoppage time, at last, came the goal that prevented Argentina suffering their first defeat in El Monumental since the infamous 5-0 reverse to Colombia in 1993. Abbondanzieri hoofed a long ball upfield, which bypassed Riquelme and bounced forward for Agüero to throw himself at, deflecting it round the defender as Palacio ran into the box and hit it, first time, without thinking. José Francisco Cevallos in the visiting goal got a hand to it but couldn’t keep it out, and Argentina were saved.

With Paraguay beating Brazil in spite of giving them a one-man advantage, the situation could be worse going into Wednesday’s match – both sides will be low on confidence rather than merely Argentina. But if they’re going to get anything from the trip to Belo Horizonte, Basile had better start thinking long and hard about which forward formation he prefers – the ones who struggled so much last night, or that which tore Mexico apart a couple of weeks ago…

12 thoughts on “Argentina 1 – 1 Ecuador

  1. A disappointing match from Argentina! I was expecting a victory but seems players are already tired. Not to talk about Brazil losing against Paraguay. What are your views on the next match between Argentina and Brazil?

    I hope Julio Cruz scores. This will be a tough match because Brazil needs to win or risk to be out having only 8 points and is not that they are playing a convincing football either.

  2. Riquelme has been poor since long before his illness. He was on song rarely in Clausura games (when he played in them, that is) and strong only for a few Libertadores games away from home (Atlas, Cruziero).

  3. I am a huge fan of Riquelme but most of his performances in the Clausura and Copa have been poor.

    Furthermore, his personality is so odd. Over time, I became increasingly afraid of the worst case scenario: that he gives up on football, forever. Is that happening right now? I hope not.

  4. I wouldn’t expect him to have a very long career, given his general lack of enthusiasm for training and fitness. And he started very young, so I think the end may be somewhat near, but I don’t think it’s now, or even in the next couple of years.

  5. C’mon guys it’s just one game, he was ill a couple of days prior to this match, which might have some bearing on his game. The pitch wasn’t good. And the whole team lacked pace apart from the front two, plus they weren’t getting the ball up the pitch fast enough.

  6. Actually his illness was a couple of days before the Fluminense game, which was a couple of weeks ago. Have you been watching him all year? He hasn’t had a genuinely good run of form since last season’s Libertadores.

  7. I’m a big fan of Riquelme, but he has been subpar for awhile now, at least for him. Except for the deflected free kick for a goal a few weeks ago, he also has not been his usual lethal self on set pieces either. But, he is Riquelme, and so could all of a sudden tear it up at anytime.

  8. I think the central question that Basile has to answer is whether he is going to build the Argentina team around Riquelme or around Messi. For me the two of them together just doesn’t really work. I think that come the qualifiers this fall we could finally see that change to Messi come about.

    If you replace Riquelme with Cruz and have Zanetti play at rightback you have a much more dangerous team.

  9. I haven’t been able to watch him all year, coz the matches are at really late times, but i’ve managed to watch some of the games in the Copa Libertadores and i thought he played pretty well, can’t say about the last game in that competition coz i fell asleep.

  10. Riquelme has been pretty poor this season. His fitness was subpar and I still don’t think he’s fully recovered from his thigh problem.

  11. In all honesty, i don’t think Basile should have played him, a half fit Riqueme is not good for the team because they rely on him to make the passes, and last night his game was really off.

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