Argentina vs. Colombia: South American Qualifier Preview
For the past 20 years, whenever people talk about Colombian football, everything always goes back to the 1994 World Cup squad. Going into that World Cup, Colombia was considered a team to be feared, and the expectations were extremely high for a team that never won any tournament at that time.
The root of these high expectations came from the 5-0 victory over Argentina in Buenos Aires at the Estadio Monumental in September 1993. The panache Colombia displayed on the road gave the impression that Colombia was ready to take on the world.
As we fast forward to today, Argentina continues to be considered a top South American side, as evidenced by their No. 1 position in the CONMEBOL standings and their No. 3 FIFA world ranking. Led by Lionel Messi (Barcelona), Kun Aguero (Manchester City) and Gonzalo Higuain (Real Madrid), no team can rival the depth of strikers and forwards that represent Argentina.
Colombia, on the other hand, has been creating their own buzz over the past year, similar to what was seen in the early '90s. Under current manager Jose Pekerman, Colombia has been able to win several key qualifier matches in convincing fashion while sticking with a consistent core team.
On Friday, June 7, at 6:05 p.m. ET, Colombia looks to recreate history as they face off against Argentina at the Estadio Monumental. These two South American powerhouses look to continue their impressive qualification run as both teams clash in what can be considered a fantasy matchup for South American and European supporters.
With Alejandro Sabella as the manager of the squad, Argentina has been able to grow by leaps and bounds from their rather disappointing 2011 Copa America performance.
Sabella has been able to stick to a core defensive unit on a more consistent basis that was not seen when Diego Maradona and Sergio Batista were previously in charge. Pablo Zabaleta (Manchester City), Federico Fernández (Getafe), Ezequiel Garay (Benfica) and Marcos Rojo (Sporting Lisbon) make up the core back line, with Hugo Campagnaro (Inter Milan) stepping in when needed.
At midfield, Javier Mascherano (Barcelona) returns back to his midfield duties after spending another club season playing defense. While his defensive midfield duties are comparable to the centre-back role, Mascherano should not feel too uncomfortable back in his accustomed role.
Due to yellow card accumulation, Ever Banega (Valencia) will not feature but will be replaced by Lucas Biglia (Anderlecht) to help bring additional balance and support for Walter Montillo (Santos), who will start in lieu of Messi and provide support for Higuain and Aguero up front.
Depending on how the game progresses, look for Messi to come off the bench to help change the pace of the game. Other subs available include Rodrigo Palacio (Inter Milan), Ezequiel Lavezzi (PSG) and star of AS Roma this past season, Erik Lamela, who played previously at River Plate and many games at the Estadio Monumental.
Lamela, with only one cap to his resume, should hopefully get some minutes and find a way to become a regular part of the team. It would be tragic to see him underutilized in a similar fashion to former national team reserve Javier Pastore (PSG), who rarely had an opportunity to find a place at the international level.
With a No. 3 FIFA ranking and a comfortable position in the South American table, Argentina is not in such a situation where this is a must-win game. Resting Messi could be the appropriate strategy for the long term and would be a great opportunity to test out their depth chart. Dropping points to Colombia will not have an adverse effect in the qualification run and on top-seed status for next year’s 2014 FIFA World Cup.
With more at stake in this match, a win for the Colombians will surely keep them ranked amongst the top seven teams in the world, as the FIFA rankings will determine seed placement for the upcoming World Cup.
A recent loss at Venezuela was probably the right wake-up call prior to facing Argentina. Despite losing 1-0 to the Venezuelans in the last qualifier match, Colombia was in full attack mode and was not necessarily outplayed but just had one of those games where the ball would not go into the net.
With more to play for on Friday, Colombia is putting forth a more aggressive lineup that features players with more European experience to match up with the Argentines, who also play in Europe on a weekly basis.
After an impressive display of club form, Pekerman will go with Yepes’ club teammate Cristian Zapata as his center-back partner instead of the usual Carlos Valdes (Sante Fe). For reasons that can only be answered behind closed doors, Zapata has hardly featured for Colombia over the past two years, so Friday’s game will be one of those games where it is essential for Zapata to shine and play mistake-free football.
Colombia’s midfield will also be more European-based, but with previously proven chemistry.
Fredy Guarin (Inter Milan) will play in place of Macnelly Torres (Atletico Nacional) as the secondary playmaker. With his strong shot from distance, Guarin is a threat with long free kicks and his ability to shoot from distance, which brings a level of unpredictability to Colombia’s attack.
Similar to Banega, Colombia will also be without defensive midfielder Edwin Valencia (Fluminese) due to card accumulation. Fan favorite Carlos Sanchez (Valenciennes) will serve as the link between the defense and attack, with regular box-to-box midfielder Abel Aguilar (Deportivo La Coruña) serving in the “Gilberto Silva” role and providing support defensively and supporting the attack in a deeper role.
Leading the midfield attack, James Rodriguez (AS Monaco) will be looking forward to pairing up with former Porto teammates Guarin, Radamel Falcao (who will also be a future teammate at Monaco) and Jackson Martinez (FC Porto). This synergy that James has been able to establish in the past and present at the club/international level could be an advantage that Colombia will have over many teams for the remaining South American qualifiers.
While Teófilo Gutiérrez (Cruz Azul) has been the regular and proven striking partner to Falcao, Pekerman will be going with Martinez, who may not be as strong in the second striker role that Gutiérrez has excelled at.
Given that two of Argentina’s defenders (Rojo and Garay) also play in Portugal at the club level, Martinez has an advantage over Gutiérrez due to playing against both defenders more recently. His familiarity with both defenders, coupled with his synergy with James at Porto this season, make Pekerman’s decision reasonable.
Needless to say, if things do not work out in Colombia’s favor early on, Pekerman has players such as Juan Cuadrado (Fiorentina) for additional pace; Gutiérrez, Luis Muriel (Udinese) or Carlos Bacca (Club Brugge) to drop back in a second striker role; and Torres or Aldo Ramirez (Morelia) for possession play at his disposal.
With a more European-based starting lineup than usual and coming off a humbling defeat to Venezuela, Colombia will hope to get back on the winning track and move out of the shadow of the Colombia team that came to the Estadio Monumental 20 years ago and won 5-0.
Argentina, on the other hand, looks to play in a more conservative fashion and must find a way to manage with Messi on the bench. Nevertheless, this will give the Argentines an opportunity to step up and prove they can hold their own without Messi in the lineup.
See you on the field!
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