Amazing. A second match at altitude (though nowhere near as high as La Paz this time, and against a much better team than Bolivia), and for the second time running Argentina lose, this time when they didn’t think they could afford to slip up at all. There really might not be any further room for error from here on in. Maybe for the next high-altitude qualifer, if he’s still in charge, Maradona should consider chemical help. He must still be in touch with a good coca supplier…
First things first, a 2-0 loss to this Ecuador side, whilst hardly what Argentina were hoping for, is a poor loss but not a humiliation, and certainly not on the same scale as the 6-1 in La Paz back on the 1st April. Argentina actually played pretty well in the first half, Lionel Messi impressing in his unexpected appearance (he finished the match without having picked up the booking that would have seen him suspended against Brazil). Messi put Carlos Tevez through for one great chance which saw the Kia Joorabchian / MSI forward (how else do I refer to him, at the moment?!) taken out by home goalkeeper Marcelo Elizaga.
Elizaga should have seen red for the challenge but only got a booking, and saved Tevez’s penalty. A little later, Messi got one-on-one with the ‘keeper but, going for a right-footed finish, midjudged and saw his shot go off target. The pitch was wet, and high up, but it was at least a proper football pitch, unlike the insulting excuse for a surface at El Monumental on Saturday, and Argentina were playing far better than they had against Colombia. At the break, Ecuador were fortunate to still be level.
The good showing continued in the second half, although one or two moments of nervousness did creep into the defence. Then, in the 71st minute, an unexpected pass out of defence caught Maxi Rodríguez on the back of his heel and the hosts pounced, midfielder Walter Ayoví sending a screamer into Mariano Andújar’s net from 25 yards out. Twelve minutes later substitute Pablo Palacios put the game to bed with a smart finish inside the box.
Maradona, hopefully, will be given time. He’s still learning and the performance was far from embarrassing. The fact remains that the scoreline still makes things very awkward for Argentina though. They’re fourth in the South American group, just two points ahead of Ecuador – and if Uruguay win their match a little later tonight they’ll go level on points with Ecuador.
Argentina’s next fixture? The good news is it’s at home. What’s not so great is, it’s against Brazil. Maradona vs Dunga, World Cup-winning captain against World Cup-winning captain. And Argentina will be afforded absolutely no room for error.
World Cup 2010 South American qualifying group, Weds 10th June 2009: Ecuador 2 – 0 Argentina