Argentina 0-0 Colombia
Estadio Brigadier General Estanislao Lopez, July 7th – Group A
Round two of the 43rd Copa America kicked off with the glamour tie of Group A: hosts Argentina facing Colombia, which soon settled into what was broadly a repeat of the two’s dull performances from a few days before.
Sergio Batista continues to struggle to create a balanced set-up for his Argentina side. He has many of the best creative players in the world at his disposal, including the undisputed best player in Lionel Messi, and also many of the best defensive midfielders, yet his defence remains a notable weak spot. He’s opted to get around this problem by shoring up his defence with lots of players there while relying on a handful of attackers to create. The logic is presumably that he can create a strong defensive base through a high volume of defensive players,then the world class attackers he plays will get him goals. In practice, neither has happened: the defence looks sloppy and the attack has failed to carve out many decent chances.
Despite being arguably the finest defensive midfielders around, Javier Mascherano and Esteban Cambiasso seem thoroughly pointless in the side. If they stay back and help the defence, a lonely Ever Banega finds it near impossible to link the rest of the team to the attack, meaning no goals, but if they venture forward, the gaps they leave are taken advantage of on the counter, worsened by the deep defensive line.
Argentina were in control of possession for most of the game, yet Colombia threatened much more. They kept the same 4-1-4-1 shape as against Costa Rica, but pressed less, staying deeper and welcoming the toothless Argentina onto them. Once they got the ball back, they were able to hit it long for Falcao or wingers Gustavo Ramos and Dayro Mauricio Moreno, who could take advantage of the space that had opened up between the Argentine midfield and defence to engineer chances – not that it was always necessary, with Gabriel Milito setting up a chance with a wayward backpass that was somehow missed by Moreno. When it wasn’t practical to hit a direct pass, Colombia still played the ball quickly, passing the ball on in some neat moves at speed and taking advantage of Argentinian pressing.
Strangely for an Argentina team, they attempted to hit it long towards the front three too. Carlos Tevez is enough of a battler to win it occasionally, but it’s not a realistic way of creating chances when most of your forwards are so ill-suited to such a style – it seemed that the centre-backs were just struggling to get the ball forward any other way. The attacking trio, especially Messi, would often look to relieve this by dropping deeper to become available for short passes. When they received the ball, they could turn and run at players, which was one of the few effective things from the performance, at least winning them some free-kicks.
Batista brought on another attacker in Gonzalo Higuain, switching to a 4-2-1-3 with Messi playing a more withdrawn role, but it still didn’t change that Argentina were failing to create any meaningful opportunities.
It’s a game Colombia really should have won, highlighting pre-tournament doubts over their ability to get goals, but simply avoiding defeat suits them, as a win against Bolivia guarantees them a place in the next round. As for Batista, his tactics clearly aren’t working. Considering the defensive basis isn’t making Argentina look any more solid, you have to wonder if it’s worth just putting lots of creative players in the side and looking to simply outscore the opposition.