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Copa America 2011: Sergio Aguero Saves Argentina, Questions Loom Large For Batista

In an enthralling curtain-raiser to the Copa America 2011 which kicked off today, hosts Argentina drew 1-1 against Bolivia at the Unico Ciudad de la Plata.  In a match which saw expectations shatter the roof in a packed stadium where the home supporters spurred the magical star cast of Argentian on, valiant defending from Bolivia saw La Verde deservedly emerge with a draw, leaving Sergio Batista to contend with several questions on how to put out his side and Argentina ruing their disappointing start to the tournament.

Aguero saved Argentina the blushes when he sent a brilliant volley crashing into the net

TRUNCATED FIRST HALF

Argentina in the first half

Argentina started off the match with Lionel Messi playing the false nine role up front, supported by Carlos Tevez and Ezequiel Lavezzi on the flanks.  Esteban Cambiasso was cast as the link between midfield and attack and the Inter man played just behind the strikers, while Javier Mascherano and Ever Banega formed the double pivot.  The first half saw truncated play from the Albicelestes as it became obvious that Cambiasso was no Xavi/Iniesta to provide magical link-up play, and creativity came in spurts for Argentina.  Lionel Messi, in his freewheeling role, looked ominous as he carved a few chances, with the best one falling to Carlos Tevez who was set up on the left by the Barcelona man, only for Tevez for side-foot it straight at goal keeper Carlos Arias.  The best chance of the half arguably fell to Esteban Cambiasso who found himself clear on goal with only Arias to beat, and yet somehow managed to miss the guilt-edged opportunity.  Argentina pushed on relentlessly, but the Bolivian blockade kept them out, with defenders Ronald Raldes and Ronald Rivero being stand out performers.

SECOND HALF

With little creativity to show for, Batista decided to change his team as he took off the inefficient Esteban Cambiasso and brought on Angel di Maria, thus making Leo Messi drop deeper into the playmaker’s role and making Carlos Tevez the central striker.  Before the manager’s changes could take effect and the team was finished reorganizing, the shock of the match arrived as three minutes into the second half, Edivaldo handed Bolivia a shock lead as his deft backheel managed to find its way into the net as Banega, who stood guarding the post, made the howler of the match by fluffing what should have been an easy clearance and horrendously passed the ball back past his own line.  As the underdogs took the lead, memories of the famous 6-1 thrashing Argentina suffered to the same opponents in the World Cup 2010 Qualifying Campaign came dashing for the Argentine faithful as the atmosphere reeked of a possible upset.  With Messi playing in a deeper role, the Bolivian blockade managed to shackle him efficiently in the second half as the Barcelona man failed to produce the creativity that he did in the first half.  It almost became 2-0 when a Gabriel Milito howler allowed Marcelo Martins to go one on one with Romario and luckily the Argentine keeper kept him out.

Argentina in the second half

With 70 minutes gone on the clock and the hosts still trailing, it was time for another change and it arrived in the form of Sergio Aguero coming on Ezequiel Lavezzi.   Lavezzi had showed plenty of pace but little accuracy in crossing and Aguero’s inclusion in place of him paid immediate dividends.  With 14 minutes left on the clock, Angel di Maria sent in a wonderful left wing cross which was chested down by Nicolas Burdisso, who had made a darting run forward and Aguero volleyed it home.  From then on, the hosts looked a wholly different side as Aguero made his presence felt.  Argentina continued to pour forward like before but looked more purposeful in their attack.  The winner however eluded the hosts as the Atletico Madrid star had a shot on goal saved and Messi setting up Banega to fire a volley failed to achieve the expected result.

With a disappointing draw at home to unfancied Bolivia, several questions have been arisen which Sergio Batista needs to address before the next match.

  • With the full-backs Rojo and Zanetti providing little creativity up front, it was imperative that Argentina needed natural width.  How Batista failed to start with Di Maria and Aguero is beyond logic, as their inclusion in the second half clearly sparked a renaissance and the hosts looked purposeful in their attacks while Lavezzi in the first half provided little real purpose.
  • Javier Mascherano was a standout player in midfield as he continuously broke up attacks, but he was miserably assisted by Ever Banega who was all over the place, looked completely out of sorts and was culpable for the first goal.
  • Esteban Cambiasso is no natural playmaker and the decision to play him behind the strikers was abysmal as the results were show in the first half.  Cambiasso should man the pivot with Mascherano and Javier Pastore should be considered for that role and his potential combination with Lionel Messi could be lethal, for the Barcelona man looked completely at ease in the freewheeling role up front in the first half but looked lost in the second half when pushed deep.
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