The 43rd Copa América kicked off in La Plata on Friday night, and once again Bolivia were the side charged with playing the hosts on the opening day, as they did in the previous two editions in 2007 and 2004. It ought to have been something of a grudge match for Argentina, since the last time these sides met Bolivia ran out 6-1 winners in La Paz in one of the biggest shocks in the history of the South American World Cup qualifiers, and perhaps the lowest point of Diego Maradona’s reign as manager. If so, though, someone obviously forgot to tell the Argentine players. Bolivia scored only their third ever goal on Argentine soil, and all Argentina could muster in reply was Sergio Agüero’s equaliser a short while after he came off the bench.
In the first half, Argentina’s midfield looked poorly set-up, with Esteban Cambiasso seemingly having been charged with bursting forward from midfield in a more attacking manner than has been the hallmark of Argentina’s central trio under Batista. Previously the Cambiasso-Mascherano-Banega axis has looked well balanced. Against Bolivia, one wondered why Sergio Batista, if he wanted to field a more aggressive midfield, didn’t vary the personnel a little. Cambiasso’s ill-suitedness for the role was illustrated by a spectacular miss in the first half.
Worst of all, though, Carlos Tevez and Ezequiel Lavezzi both had nightmares. Tevez, after battling so publicly to get back into the squad, played with seemingly no interest in his team-mates at all, whilst Lavezzi’s wide play was appalling, especially in the second half, during which he was replaced with the much more effective Agüero. Lionel Messi was struggling on his own, with only Ever Banega looking on the same wavelength.
At half time, Ángel Di María replaced Cambiasso, leaving Mascherano and Banega in the middle alone and, with no target man, effectively going 4-2-4, in a sign that Batista, 45 minutes into the tournament, was getting desperate. A little more patience might not have gone amiss. With too many individualistic players around him, Messi was lost, and a rare moment of collective brilliance – a Di María cross chested down by centre back Nicolás Burdisso for Agüero to superbly volley in – was required for Argentina to equalise after the otherwise decent Banega had failed to clear a backheeled corner and let the ball trickle over the line for Bolivia’s opener two minutes into the second half.
It was a poor and unbalanced performance, but it was also the opening game, and we often see slow starts in opening games of tournaments. It’s not as disastrous a result as the press here already seem to be making out, but it does ensure Argentina will have to improve a lot for the next match, against their main group rivals Colombia in Santa Fe on Wednesday. All the same, the Copa América’s finally here.
Group A, Fri 1st July: Argentina 1 – 1 Bolivia
I would recommend selecting ‘mute’ on this video before playing. You don’t want to be subjected to the music.
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Photo taken from ca2011.com
Nice report Sam. Batista is going to pay for the lack of creative midfielders. He has never shown any interest in creative new blood, read Pastore, or creative old blood, read Andy D or Aimar. It seems he tinkered with the idea of calling Riquelme, but nothing more. He wants Messi to be all things to all men (along with Banega), and no one player is up to this absurd monumental task. While Messi was drowning in play-making responsibilities, how many shots on goal did he have ? One exquisite effort that the Bolivian keeper got a hand to. Maybe more, but not many more. Don’t you want the best player in the world, a boy genius who lives to score goals, having more than a measly whatever number of shots on goal ? Argentina doesn’t have enough creative midfielders, both young and old, for Batista to have engineered a more balanced, more dangerous attack ?
And worse, once it was clear last night that things weren’t going as he expected, he clearly panicked and inserted “divemaster” Di Maria, whose philosophy is “I’ll run as fast as I can down the left side of the pitch and fall down if anybody lays a pinkie on me”. Replacing the equally disturbing Lavezzi, who should be lounging on an Italian beach right now soaking up more colored dye, was a no brainer. Aguero with a golazo and you have a fortunate draw for Argentina.
Ah, I’ll stop. I fear that Batista’s “We are Barcelona” madness has already laid the groundwork for a miserable Copa for Argentina. With egg on his face, one would hope he looks at some attacking alternatives, involving Pastore, Aguero and Higuain, along with Messi. Lavezzi and Di Maria should be at the end of the bench. Tevez ? A strange performance from him last night. Who can figure the Carlitos one ?
I can’t figure out why Tevez was so horrific last night. He wasn’t interchanging positions, wasn’t really moving well, and had really no control. Between him, Lavezzi and Di Maria they all tried the same things. There wasn’t any creativity from either of those three. For my tastes, ARG need another playmaking midfielder alongside Messi and Banega to triangulate with. I would keep Masche, Cambiasso and Banega in midfield, and take off Lavezzi & Tevez and bring on Aguero and another midfielder to help. Pastore maybe? Especially against a team like Bolivia with a back 4, 3 offensive players plays right into that trap. Messi is not going to defend, you don’t want him defending/pressing. They need to bring down another player in the midfield to regain/retain possession and help calm down the forwards, be much more patient… It was like the two different teams out there between the back 5 and the front 5. The back 5 were calm, patient, and the attacking 5 were frantic and erratic. More teamwork please!?!
With clever captions like that, there’s a place for you at cheap, English tabloid yet Sam! :D
Actually it’s a reference to a Mike Tyson quote. But that’s the first time anyone’s ever shown appreciation of my photo captions, so thank you!
If you didn’t catch that quote from the horse’s mouth, here it is: http://proxy.espn.go.com/espn/page2/story?page=simmons/020611
Hilarious ! I was unaware of that Tyson quote. Well, let’s hope Messi is not hounded into any kind of “livian” any time soon.
Good summary Sam. I thought Messi was actually quite good in the first half, but he ran into the same problem as he did at the World Cup: too deep a role with too little movement from the players around him. Tevez in particular looked lethargic, the Banega-Cambiasso-Mascherano midfield (as many have noted) was too static, and neither Zanetti nor Rojo was bombing forward from full-back in the mould of a Dani Alves. Needless to say the Bolivians had no problem double- and triple-marking Messi.
My changes going forward would be as follows:
– Drop Cambiasso in favour of Pastore. Banega can focus on dictating play from deep, and Pastore will provide the link between midfield and attack that was sorely lacking.
– Start Aguero, bench Tevez. Lavezzi at least is the right type of player to play in a wide attacking role, even if he struggled against Bolivia. Tevez is too similar to Messi to play a supporting role to him. Aguero would provide the same goalscoring threat (even more so, considering Tevez’s pedestrian record at international level) with more pace and mobility.
Honestly though, replicating Barca’s system, where each player is familiar with his role (and his teammates) and is willing to make the necessary sacrifices, is not going to be simple regardless of personnel. The first step is to reduce the pressure on Messi as a creator, which is where I think Pastore can make a difference.