Argentina and Colombia battled to a draw, 0-0, in what was a hotly contested fixture Friday night. The two countries met in Buenos Aires for a 2014 World Cup qualifier.
There was some worry that Lionel Messi wouldn't be available for the match. Although he didn't start, Messi was fit enough to be named a substitute. The news came as no surprise to South American football expert Sam Kelly:
All but confirmed what we've suspected for a couple of days; Lionel Messi will be on the bench for Argentina this evening v Colombia.— Sam Kelly (@HEGS_com) June 7, 2013
Fortunately, this match didn't even need the best player in the world to be entertaining.
In the 25th minute, Cristian Zapata went in hard on Gonzalo Higuain. The striker retaliated by kicking Zapata. Needless to say, the official wasted little time and sent off both players. You don't often see two players sent off so close to one another.
It offered an interesting dynamic for the rest of the first half, as one team was without a defender, while the other was without a striker. There wasn't any advantage to be had for either country.
Italian football expert Tancredi Palmeri decided to have a laugh about the situation, as he pointed out that Higuain and Zapata were simply getting ready to square off in Serie A. Zapata plays for AC Milan, with Higuain rumored to Juventus, according to Palmeri:
It's already Juventus-Milan between Higuain and Zapata: both sent off in Argentina-Colombia for kicking each other...— Tancredi Palmeri (@tancredipalmeri) June 7, 2013
James Rodriguez was taken off the pitch in the 32nd minute after getting injured. It will be interesting to see if he has to take any time off. Rodriguez is just one of the massive names off to Monaco for next season.
Despite the first half finishing 0-0, it was a very entertaining first 45.
Jackson Martinez had a goal called off for offside. Football writer Alex Richards thought that the offside call illustrated how the Colombians were offering more in the attack early on:
Jackson Martinez has the ball in the net but offside. Colombia swarming forward at every opportunity, carrying real threat.— Alex Richards (@AA_Richards) June 7, 2013
Colombia couldn't capitalize on any advantages and felt aggrieved as the match official blew for halftime when the Colombians were on the attack.
In the second half, the momentum swung in Argentina's favor.
Sergio Aguero had a goal rightly called offside in the 53rd minute. From then on, it was the Argentinians who were on the front foot.
Argentina got a major boost when Messi made his first appearance, in the 56th minute. He almost set up a goal with his first touch of the match.
The Dirty Tackle's Brooks Peck summed up the situation well:
Messi is warming up. Colombia's shirts are yellow with fear.— dirtytackle (@BrooksDT) June 7, 2013
Aguero with a second disallowed goal - he's miles onside this time, terrible decision.— Mark Booth (@markbooth_mcfc) June 7, 2013
Honestly Aguero is a good three yards onside there, that's one of the worst offside calls I can remember. Sabella is apocalyptic.— Mark Booth (@markbooth_mcfc) June 7, 2013
Argentine players surrounded the linesman. His mind had been made up, and the decision was final.
That was the last real action of the match. Most of the drama came from the Argentine coaches and players arguing with the fourth official on the sideline.
Argentina may have a point with regard to the Aguero goal, but they weren't far and away the better team on the pitch. If Messi could have played a full 90 minutes, perhaps Argentina could have walked away with a win.
Still, they can't be too upset with a draw.
Sergio Aguero, Argentina: B+
Sergio Aguero was Argentina's best attacker. He was a threat going forward and should have had at least a goal. The first offside call was correct, but the second one was very poor. Aguero was definitely onside, and Argentina should have been up, 1-0.
Bringing on Messi was a game-changer. It was Aguero, though, who led the Argentine attack for the majority of the match.
Ezequiel Garay, Argentina: A
Ezequiel Garay was a monster. He did a fantastic job of marshaling Radamel Falcao and Jackson Martinez. His job was made a little easier when Martinez was subbed off to start the second half, but it's still an accomplishment to shackle Falcao to such an extent.
If you were unfamiliar with the centre-back, here's hoping you were a witness to his masterclass. It takes a talented player to make opposition like Garay faced look so ineffective.
Radamel Falcao, Colombia: C-
You would have been forgiven if you forgot for long stretches that Radamel Falcao didn't even play in this match. He was relatively quiet for every second of the 90 minutes he was on the pitch.
Falcao wasn't helped when Jackson Martinez was subbed off at halftime for Luis Perea, but that doesn't excuse his performance. He was poor and offered very little in the match.
|Sergio Romero ||B|
|Ezequiel Garay ||A
|Pablo Zabaleta ||B+
|Marcos Rojo ||B
|Federico Fernandez ||B
|Lucas Biglia ||B-
|Angel Di Maria ||A-
|Walter Montillo (off 56') ||C
|Gonzalo Higuain (sent off 26') ||F|
Sergio Aguero (off 80')
|Lionel Messi ||B
|Ezequiel Lavezzi ||C-
|David Ospina ||B|
|Cristian Zapata (sent off 25') ||F
|Abel Aguilar (off 59') ||C+|
|James Rodriguez (off 32') ||D+|
|Radamel Falcao ||C-
|Jackson Martinez (off 45') ||C+
|Juan Guillermo Cuadrado ||B-
|Luis Perea ||C+
|Alexander Mejia ||C-
Argentina remain four points clear atop the CONMEBOL table. They're still the clear favorites to finish at the top of the group when World Cup qualification ends. Argentina plays Ecuador on Tuesday in CONMEBOL qualifying and then has a friendly against Guatemala next Friday.
Despite the draw, Colombia is firmly in the driver's seat for Brazil. They move up to third in the table on goal differential and are four points clear of the fifth-place playoff match. Colombia meets Peru on Tuesday in their next WCQ match.