The 43rd edition of the Copa America commenced yesterday, with the hosts Argentina taking on Bolivia in La Plata. The game promised a lot of before the start especially from Argentina. And the fact that Bolivia thumped Argentina 6-1 in La Paz during the World Cup Qualifiers made the match even more spicy. But everything was proved wrong as the match ended as a 1-1 draw with the hosts producing a less than comprehensive display. Sergio Aguero equalized with a “goal of the tournament contender” finish after Edivaldo Rojas put Bolivia upfront after a rather sloppy play by Ever Banega. Even though Argentina produced some moments of individual brilliance especially from Lionel Messi, they did not do enough to seal an opening day win.
Batista put out a rather similar side to the one that thrashed Albania on 20th June. But Lucas Biglia, Sergio Aguero and Angel Di Maria were replaced by Esteban Cambiasso, Carlos Tevez and Ezequiel Lavezzi. Defense was unchanged. The major mistake that Batista did was inclusion of the more defensive minded Cambiasso to play alongside Mascherano and Banega. This proved the major weakness in the Argentina team.
The game started rather fast, like all games in which Argentina is involved. Bolivia were more than happy to sit and soak up all the pressure applied on them by Argentina. Argentina dominated the midfield and kept moving the ball around until an opening arrived. But a clear cut chance never arrived for Argentina. The back-line of the Bolivan defense couldn’t be infiltrated. The first clear chance came for Tevez from a Messi free-kick, he was clear behind the defense but glanced his header wide miserably. Messi dribbled a lot after receiving the ball and made passes to the strikers on his either side. He first played in Lavezzi on the right side who tried to hit the far corner from a rather acute angle but failed. Then the chance came for Tevez, again after Messi dribbled past a series of players, but his cheeky low shot towards the bottom corner was saved by the keeper.
After than chances were very little with the game being played out completely in the midfield. The Bolivian striker Marcelo Moreno had little to do upfront. Messi had to drop to midfield most of the time to take the ball upfront. Cambiasso was rusty and Banega was always busy and couldn’t link up with Messi. The other two strikers didnt get involved as well. And the fact that Messi was being man-marked made the situation even worse. The first half ended 0-0 with the home fans getting rather nervous.
Batista made a questionable change at Half Time by bringing on Angel Di Maria for Esteban Cambiasso. This made the team even more unbalanced. Bringing on Javier Pastore would have been a logical move. But Batista wanted more pace in attack. But that was not what he got. In the 48th minute, the hosts were shocked. From an innocuous looking corner Bolivia took the lead. Edivaldo Rojas flicked the ball back towards the goal and Ever Banega who was standing at the near post tried to control it with his sole and failed miserably resulting in the ball rolling into the net before Sergio Romero could pounce on it. The entire stadium became silent.
Argentina tried to get back quickly but couldnt do so. Lavezzi was still playing poorly and Angel Di Maria despite all his efforts and dribbling ability couldn’t make any impact on the game. Then Batista brought on Sergio Aguero for Lavezzi which should have been done at half time itself. Marcelo Moreno got a rare and great chance on the other end but the composed Sergio Romero did well to keep him out.
Then came the equalizer with 75 minutes played. Nicolas Burdisso chested down a cross from the left side and Aguero volleyed it superbly into the net past the Goal keeper who could do absolutely nothing about it. This lifted the spirits of the team. But still, Argentina couldn’t break the Bolivian defense who were very well organized.
Bolivia who were outsiders in the tournament managed to get a point off Argentina who were the clear favorites to win the Tournament. This put more pressure on Sergio Batista who is already facing lots of questions. Surely Diego Maradona would have something to say about the game and that would put Batista under even more pressure.
If he corrects the mistakes in the first game, then Argentina can do better. Lets hope he realizes it and shuffles the squad. Tevez was not happy playing wide and Lavezzi couldn’t produce the kind of performances that he does for Napoli. As I pointed out earlier, Messi had no one to combine with and play some 1-2 passes like he used to do in Barcelona. Adding a more attack minded midfielder like Pastore should do the trick and introduction of Angel Di Maria and Sergio Aguero in place of Tevez and Lavezzi should also work because those two players are more support minded players who can cut in occasionally and link up with Messi.