Its been a really long time since Argentina National Football team underperformed in the opening stages of a big competition. For nearly 15 years, we have seen the team play promisingly in the opening stages and eventually flopping in one of the knock out rounds ultimately breaking millions of hearts all over the world. They broke my heart in the 2006 World Cup, 2007 Copa America and again in the 2011 World Cup. But the same trend was seen even as back as the 1998 World Cup in France where we fell to Holland. Though the 2002 World Cup was slightly different, we did show a lot of promise before the tournament. But lacked motivation in the group stages. And in the following Copa America in 2003, heart break again. Losing in the final after throwing away a winning position. But this years Copa America has been very different.
After flopping totally in the World Cup under ‘El Diego’ even with a superb squad, the team got itself a new manager in the form of Sergio Batista. Batista was formerly the youth team coach who won the Olympic Gold Medal. Inspite of that many doubted whether he had the tactical knowledge that a manager of a big national team must have. But things changed after a couple of Friendly matches. Argentina beat Spain comprehensively and beat Brazil and Portugal with some ‘Messi Magic’. So I thought “Ok. We finally got ourselves a good manager after Jose Pekerman. We should win the Copa without much difficulty”. But things changed dramatically. First he made clear that there would be no place for Carlos Tevez in the team. That put him under immense pressure from Argentine press and more importantly Diego Maradona whose words carry immense weight in Argentina. This made him rather uncomfortable. Then came a series of friendly matches which were supposed to be practice matches for the Copa. But Batista surprisingly played a B team or rather a C team against these teams and the NT played really really bad. Even though he intended to rest his stars, he should not have let the NT’s prestige go down the drain. And then came another stupid announcement.
He declared that the NT would be playing differently from now on. And that they would try to mimic FC Barcelona’s style of play as much as possible, with the World’s Best Player, Lionel Messi playing as a fake no.9. Many raised doubts as to whether Argentina has the players to match the likes of Xavi, Iniesta, Villa etc. I also wrote an article about this, comparing the Barca and our NT’s squads. Still, people had some faith in our team and most were excited and eager to watch the team play that way. Then the final friendly against Albania before the Copa came and we played with Messi as the fake no. 9 and with Lavezzi and Di Maria playing on either side and more surprisingly Batista included Tevez in the squad. This raised questions as to whether he has a proper plan in his mind and as to whether he has complete control over the team and as to whether he is being influenced by people higher up in the ‘dirty’ Argentine football Hierarchy. Inspite of all doubts, the team played brilliantly and scored 4 goals with the four strikers Messi, Lavezzi, Tevez and Aguero getting on the score sheet. This raised the hopes and expectations of all the fans. But having said that Albania were not playing very good and their defense was amateurish to say the least. Still, Messi was playing like he was playing for Barca and everyone was doing well. But things soon changed when the Copa finally started.
When the team news came out hours before (a rather odd practice followed by all teams in the Copa America) the opening game against Bolivia in La Plata, every one was rather surprised. Batista put Esteban Cambiasso, Javier Mascherano and Ever Banega in midfield. And completely overlooked Pastore and Gago. There was absolutely no way the Esteban could play like Xavi or Iniesta. He is too old for that kind of stuff. And more surprisingly Carlos Tevez was included in the starting lineup, despite the fact that Batista claimed that Tevez does not play well for Argentina only few weeks earlier. Surely the Albania game would not have changed his mind. What changed his mind then? God knows… or may be Don Julio Grondona knows!
Even though the midfield lineup looked rather ‘uncreative’ or ‘dull’, I was still hoping that Argentina would put up a very good display considering the fact that Bolivia beat Argentina 6-1 in La Paz (at high altitude) in the World Cup Qualifiers under Diego Maradona. But the opposite happened. The team had zero creativity, poor movement, poor defensively and bleak infront of goal. Tevez was uninterested to play, all that Lavezzi did was run without any aim or motive, and the only played who you could say played well was Messi. But he too was poor after the restart at Half Time. Marcos Rojo looked pretty fragile at left back. And Cambiasso who should never have played was completely static in the middle of the park. He was the exact opposite of Xavi and Iniesta. No one wanted to link up with Messi. He had to drop deep to collect the ball and tried to dribble a long distance but couldn’t. How much can a little guy do? There was no support for him. And things took a turn for the worse after half time. Bolivia scored a lucky goal and we were 1 down. Then came a stupid substitution. Di maria was brought on for Cambiasso and that demolished the precious little balance in the team. Later Lavezzi was taken off and Aguero was brought on and he saved Argentina with a sensational volley. It was clear that Argentina couldn’t adapt to the Barca game. And many players raised their concerns.
Still, Batista didnt change. He put out the same lineup (except for Rojo being replaced by Zabaleta of Man City) to the surprise of everyone. The mood of the fans and media now changed from one of hope to anger. Argentina underperformed again against Colombia and were lucky to get a 0-0 draw. To be honest, Argentina should have lost 2 or 3-0. Keeper Romero was brilliant throughout the game and kept out most goal attempts. But Batista tried to change the system by bringing on Gago and Aguero, but things didnt change. Then he brought Higuain on and we showed some promise but still it was not enough. Batista should have changed it from minute 1 itself! But why the hell does he not want Pastor to play? This seems really stupid. It wouldn’t be a surprise if Batista puts out the same squad against Costa Rica in the final must win group stage game. I hope he doesn’t.
Who knows what he will do next? He has really good midfield options with him. God knows why the 45 million pound rated Javier Pastore is being kept warming the bench and why he insists of always playing Cambiasso and Tevez and Lavezzi who look totally useless. This is the difference between previous tournaments and this. We wont be heart broken if we loose the game against Costa Rica. Even though I’d love to see my team progress, I’d rather face the World Cup without Batista than to win the Copa America and have that mad-man still as manager. I hope that man gets his senses and put out a different team. The pressure’s on with Costa Rica playing well and winning against Bolivia in yesterday’s game. Lets he what he does now!
Steve Robinson, One of a million hearts wanting Arg to win the Copa!