Guatemala vs. Argentina: 6 Things We Learned from International Friendly
As Argentina matches go, Friday's 4-0 demolition of Guatemala was fairly underwhelming. The result never appeared in doubt after Lionel Messi fired his team into the lead, and the friendly encounter lived up to its name as the Albiceleste cruised to victory.
The win capped off a week of tests for the South Americans, who drew against Colombia and Ecuador in two key World Cup qualifiers. Alejandro Sabella took the chance to rotate his squad, and it paid off as the second-stringers did what was needed to triumph.
Messi's third hat-trick in Argentine colours inevitably took the headlines, but there were plenty of talking points to discuss at the final whistle as his side sealed a comfortable victory.
Messi Is a Useful Player to Have Around
Barcelona star and Argentina captain Lionel Messi had to wait patiently during the Albiceleste's most recent qualifiers, coming off the bench in the final half-hour in both of those clashes as his team was held to consecutive draws.
By the time Guatemala came around, La Pulga was champing at the bit to play, and he responded with a magnificent performance that also proved to be record breaking. His third goal of the evening, an easy side-foot finish, moved him onto 35 in the Albiceleste, taking him clear of a certain Diego Maradona in the all-time scoring chants.
Lio also joins Hernan Crespo in second place on that list, headed by Gabriel Batistuta who is surely looking over his shoulder at the phenomenon. A neat assist almost went without notice for Messi, but it was another talismanic display that proved once more his importance to the team.
Lamela Is a Star of the Future
Naturally, one man took all the headlines for Argentina in a rampant win. But behind Messi, a young star who could prove crucial to the nation's chance in the coming years was finally making his bow in the senior international side.
Erik Lamela, Roma's 21-year-old forward and graduate of the River Plate academy that spawned the likes of Pablo Aimar, Hernan Crespo and Javier Saviola, entered at half-time for Sergio Aguero and immediately looked to make an impact. The kid even went close to a dream debut goal shortly after entering, but after running on perfectly to Messi's ball blazed his shot wide.
With stars of the calibre of Ezequiel Lavezzi, Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain and Angel Di Maria all more settled in the Seleccion, Lamela's place to a regular spot will not be easy; but there is no doubt that the cultured, rapid left-footer has the talent to be in the squad.
Augusto Made a Big Play for Selection
A veteran of the Argentine Primera Division but with little experience playing in Europe, Celta Vigo midfielder Augusto Fernandez is not the first name that comes to mind when one thinks of Albiceleste stars knocking on the door for a place in the middle. Against Guatemala, however, he did his chances a world of good.
Playing on the right of a three-man midfield, the ex-River Plate and Velez Sarsfield star was effective both going forward and back, typifying his display with a terrific tackle and pass deep in his own half. It ended with him covering a terrific distance to almost meet Lavezzi's pass. His performance was capped with a strong header that marked his first-ever international goal.
Fernandez is a solid, honest rather than spectacular performer, but he is a player sorely lacking currently for Argentina, and his engine and quality in the middle should not be overlooked when it comes to picking a squad for Brazil 2014.
Masche Can Play in the Argentina Defence
The previous Argentina test against Ecuador, Javier Mascherano saw the Barcelona star make the headlines for all the wrong reasons. A bizarre kick aimed at the driver of the stretcher saw the midfielder sent off, forcing him into a humbling apology.
On Friday, though, we saw the other side of El Jefecito's game. In the second half, he was pressed into action for Jose Basanta in the centre-back position he has made his own in the Camp Nou. It's an interesting experiment by coach Alejandro Sabella, who had previously refrained from dropping the ex-captain further down the field.
With the game already won, there was little for Masche to do alongside fellow new face in defence Fabricio Coloccini; but watch out for further use of the star in the back line as Sabella examines his World Cup options.
There Is Strength in Depth in the Argentine Ranks
For close observers of Argentine football, it has been a recurring worry. The best 11 players Alejandro Sabella can put out are a match for the most powerful sides in international football; but what of those further down in the pecking order?
Against an admittedly forgiving rival such as Guatemala, the second-string proved that they were no pushovers. Fringe players like Hugo Campagnaro, Lucas Biglia, Mariano Andujar and the Augusto Fernandez came into the starting lineup and performed well, giving their own chances of further involvement in the national team a welcome boost.
Sabella seems to have a strong idea of what his best team is, but 11 players do not win you a major tournament. If his stars get injured or suspended, at least the coach knows that the backup is there to fit seamlessly into the action.
There Will Be Tougher Challenges to Come
Make no mistake, even though Friday's clash was played in Guatemala City, the home side were far from the centre of attention. Even for the local supporters, the main attraction was seeing Lionel Messi in the flesh for the first time, followed by the likes of Sergio Aguero and Lavezzi; with the talents of the Furia Azul coming a distant third in the list of priorities.
Victor Monzon's charges were badly overmatched throughout the game, and from the moment Messi opened the scoring with a brilliantly placed long shot, there was only to be one winner.
There were a handful of positive moments, and the fact that it needed the world's best player to make the difference suggests the team that went so close to qualifying for the final round of matches in the CONCACAF World Cup race are on the up.
Among the home players, captain and former Arsenal de Sarandi playmaker Jose Manuel Contreras stood out as one of the best with his cultured passing and movement. Midfield colleague Sergio Trujillo was also impressive, making life difficult for his Argentine rivals with some tenacious marking and tackling.