Argentina vs. Peru: 6 Things We Learned
In a match that had no real bearing on the CONMEBOL qualification process, Argentina ran out comfortable 3-1 winners over Peru at the Monumental stadium in Buenos Aires.
Claudio Pizarro scored a delightful goal to put Peru ahead against the run of play before the Albicelestes' class shone through, with Ezequiel Lavezzi (2) and Rodrigo Palacio finding the net to ensure all three points went to the hosts.
With Peru already out of the running for a place at Brazil 2014, and Argentina guaranteed of a spot before this round, this fixture was used by both coaches as an opportunity to tinker with starting lineups and test out individual players.
Here are six things we learned from the game.
Argentina Are Much More Stable Under Sabella
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Taking a look back at the corresponding Argentina-Peru fixture from the 2010 World Cup qualifying campaign, it becomes abundantly clear just how different the atmosphere around the squad is this time around.
Under the guidance of the passionate but unpredictable Diego Maradona, Argentina came within minutes of almost-certain elimination, heading into injury time with the scored locked at 1-1.
As a tremendous storm shook the Monumental, Martin Palermo came off the bench to score a dramatic late, late winner for the Albicelestes, keeping their qualification hopes alive and sending Maradona sliding along the turf like a demented penguin in celebration.
It was a truly unforgettable moment, but it was also representative of the general chaos which surrounded the team in those days.
This time around there is a much more level-headed character, in Alejandro Sabella, in charge of Argentina, and with his side already qualified for Brazil, he was able to use the Peru match to experiment with some of the squad's fringe players.
We won't see any belly slides from Sabella, but many Argentina fans will be pleased that his calm determination seems to have rubbed off on his players.
Fernandez and Garay Will Be Argentina's Centre-Back Pairing in Brazil
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Though Sabella tested out the likes of Palacio, Ever Banega and Lucas Biglia in his starting side (changes that were somewhat forced due to the absence of Fernando Gago, Javier Mascherano and Messi), he refused to play around with the back line that he clearly favors heading into the World Cup.
Federico Fernandez and Ezequiel Garay are, without doubt, the Argentine coach's preferred centre-back pairing, with Pablo Zabaleta the man he likes at right-back. Marcos Rojo appears to be the favored left-back, though his spot is not quite as locked in as the others.
Whether this is good news for Argentina fans is up for debate. There is no doubt that sticking with the same formula at the back has bred understanding in the defensive line. At the same time, Fernandez is not a world-class central defender, and the fullbacks often look shaky when asked to do their defensive duties.
Sabella has placed his trust in this setup, however, and his faith will either be rewarded or exposed as flawed in Brazil next year.
Peru Need to Vastly Improve Away from Home
A strong showing at the 2011 Copa America under Sergio Markarian indicated that Peru might have been in with a good chance of qualifying for the 2014 World Cup.
Solid results on their home turf, including a 1-1 draw with Argentina and wins over Chile and Ecuador could have laid a platform for Peru to be pushing for one of the four CONMEBOL direct qualification spots, or the fifth-place playoff spot.
A shocking return of just one point from the entirety of their away matches, however, has severely hobbled Peru's campaign, ensuring they were already out of the running coming into this penultimate round.
They showed against Argentina at the Monumental, even after taking the lead, that they don't have the wherewithal to compete with South America's big guns when playing away from home.
Claudio Pizarro Has Still Got It
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The 35-year-old Bayern Munich veteran Claudio Pizarro has been involved with the Peru national team for 14 years, and he showed on Saturday that he still has something to offer.
His opportunistic goal was reminiscent of a Messi special.
Running on to an over-the-top ball which left Argentina's defense flat-footed, Pizarro was confronted with an advancing Sergio Romero. Showing the calm composure of a man who has played over 70 times for his country, the striker coolly lobbed the keeper from just outside the area, guiding the ball into the back of the net with a sweetly weighted shot.
Argentina Have the Players to Win the World Cup, Even Without Messi
With star man Lionel Messi missing, this dead rubber was the perfect opportunity to trial other players in Argentina's attacking lineup.
Overall, the men selected passed the test with flying colors.
The relative weakness of the opposition notwithstanding, Lavezzi, Palacio, Aguero and Di Maria performed admirably as an offensive unit, with Banega also doing well from a creative midfield position.
The strength of all of these players is their ability to fulfill various roles across the front line. All of them have the pace and skill set to drop deeper, cut in from wide or lead the line, and they often switched positions and tasks as the match progressed.
Sabella will be praying Messi does not suffer from an injury during the World Cup, but if the unthinkable happens, he will have plenty of options to call on.
Di Maria Is Now a Leader for Argentina
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The skinny Real Madrid winger wore the captain's armband for Argentina for the first time against Peru, a testament to how highly he is rated by Sabella.
Angel Di Maria was once regarded as somewhat of a luxury player, but these days he is one of the first on the teamsheet for Argentina due to his consistently strong performances.
"Noodle" is in the form of his life and was once again willing and able to shoulder much of the creative burden against Peru.
He will be one of the Albicelestes' key players in Brazil.