Copa America 2011: Uruguay progress in fiesty clash

July 17, 2011
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Argentina 1-1(p) Uruguay

Higuain 17’      Perez 5′

Estadio Brigadier General Stanislao Lopez, July 16 – Quarter Final

Hosts Argentina crash out of the 43rd Copa America on penalties despite having a man advantage for 50 minutes.

Sergio Batista, having finally seen some success against Costa Rica, continued with the same system that had brought Argentina their first win of the tournament: a 4-3-3 with Sergio Aguero wide left, Lionel Messi cutting inside and Angel di Maria joining the attack from deep.

Uruguay made just one change. Oscar Tabarez replacing winger Cristian Rodriguez with defender Martin Caceres, with Porto’s Alvaro Pereira moving from left-back into midfield, creating a more defensive 4-4-1-1 shape – another man added to the defensive base so Luis Suarez and Diego Forlan were free to create.

The opening set the tone for the match, with plenty of closing down and tackles – Diego Perez earning a yellow for a stamp on Javier Mascherano just two minutes in. It came as little surprise when he was sent off – rather than being more careful, Perez continued to clatter the Argentinians and could easily have been sent off before he was in the 38th minute. Although it made Uruguay’s job harder, his removal changed little tactically. There was still three other players in that central area doing the same job as him, so it just meant there was one less man to do it.

He did of course have a positive effect on the game too, poking in the result of a free-kick for his first international goal. Set-pieces looked the only way Uruguay were really going to threaten, but that suited them because Argentina defended them so poorly and, in the second half, gave them away so frequently.

Despite their man advantage, Argentina also very rarely threatened. Inverted full-back Caceres did a good job of keeping Messi quiet – Argentina’s equaliser coming as a warning not to leave him, Caceres getting caught up the pitch to give Messi the space to scoop a perfect ball for Gonzalo Higuain to head home. Aguero looked dangerous, but was wasted out wide and, not being a natural wide man, rarely saw much of the ball. Pablo Zabaleta charged up the right to provide some width, but he isn’t really a rampaging full-back and wasn’t capable of getting to the byline and whipping in a cross to stretch play. It seemed strange to have a natural winger in Di Maria central when Argentina were desperately in need of someone out wide.

Instead, they played into Uruguay’s hands, looking to play through the middle. Batista then worsened the situation, taking off Di Maria, who could have solved the problem, and bringing on central players in Carlos Tevez and Javier Pastore. With width, they could have created problems for the three centre midfielders, stretching them to open up space in the middle, but instead they were able to contain Argentina comfortably.

Mascherano’s rather harsh sending off made the introduction of Lucas Biglia necessary, Fernando Gago and Pastore looking shaky against Forlan, but with Argentina controlling possession it didn’t really change that much either, just putting Uruguay on a more even keel. The game went to penalties and Carlos Tevez, who had been awful since his introduction, did little to improve his opinion in the eyes of Batista by missing his pen.

It was a bit of a strange game really – neither side looked all that threatening, but it was still an engrossing game. Having won just one game against a weakened Costa Rica, it will be interesting to see what happens to Batista – his side have looked poor and he had been slow to change anything. The squad is unbalanced, but his decisions have hardly helped the situation, so whether or not Argentina stick with him could be a contentious issue. The pragmatic Uruguay looked fairly convincing however, the defence seeming well-organised and Suarez a real danger in attack. As it stands, it’s not unreasonable to consider Tabarez’s men favourites.

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