Argentina vs. Slovenia: 6 Things We Learned
Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella took the opportunity to rotate his squad in the Estadio Unico, and his players responded well as they downed Slovenia, 2-0, in their send-off before the World Cup. Ricky Alvarez celebrated his first international goal early on, before Lionel Messi sealed the victory toward the end.
Those are the cold, hard facts of the game. But what will the trainer have learned after 90 minutes in La Plata?
Looking over Saturday's match, the following lessons cannot be ignored just eight days from the start of the Argentine World Cup campaign.
Strength-in-Depth Concerns Are Exaggerated
One of the big questions over the Argentina team going into the World Cup concerns the players who may not see too much action in Brazil. Everyone knows what Messi, Sergio Aguero, Angel Di Maria and the rest of the gang can do, but what about those deputising?
The Slovenia match put at least some of those fears at bay. Coach Sabella started with seven of the habitual first-team either on the bench or recovering from slight knocks; and the much-questioned understudies rose to the task with an efficient performance.
Slovenia Held Their Own Against Superior Rivals
The chances of Slovenia taking a win on Saturday were roughly as high as the Washington Generals putting one over the Globetrotters. This was an exhibition, a feel-good fixture organised to give Argentina fans a cheer before the World Cup really begins.
Nevertheless, the Balkans side were tenacious and competitive throughout, although a lack of attacking inventiveness limited their danger against the Albiceleste second-string. Goalkeeper Vid Belec, making his international debut, especially stood out with some excellent stops to keep the score respectable.
Mascherano's Ball-Playing Skills Are Much Underrated
When watching Javier Mascherano do his thing in the middle of the pitch, several adjectives come to mind. Tough, tenacious, unstinting, honest. Skillful, however, is not always a word associated with the Barcelona star.
But in the absence of Di Maria and Fernando Gago on Saturday, El Jefecito proved he is much more than just a destroyer. Mascherano started the game in the centre of defence, later switching to a more advanced "Libero" position when Hugo Campagnaro entered.
In either of the two posts, he was a strong candidate for man of the match. Masche controlled the Argentine game from deep, giving an all-action performance that included an exemplary display of quality passing.
Alvarez Could Prove to Be Argentina's Ace in the Hole
Saturday afternoon's Slovenia friendly was a glorious chance for some of the Argentine fringe players to show Sabella what they can do in international colours. Perhaps nobody grabbed the opportunity quite as strongly as Inter winger Alvarez.
The ex-Velez Sarsfield man opened the scoring for the Albiceleste with a fantastic individual goal, his first for the national team. But he was a threat throughout the game, stretching Slovenia across the pitch before finally coming off in the second half.
Di Maria obviously starts as first choice for the left side of midfield, but Alvarez's La Plata display shows that he will be fighting for the role of impact substitute in Brazil.
Romero Goes into World Cup in Solid Form
Out of all the Argentine starters, goalkeeper Sergio Romero takes more flak for his supposed weaknesses. The former Sampdoria man has featured only sporadically since moving to Monaco, making him an easy target for critics who see him as the Albiceleste weak link.
There was no sign of rustiness, however, against Slovenia. Romero was not overly taxed in goal, and he dealt with any danger effectively to rack up the clean sheet.
The game, moreover, marked the third consecutive international encounter in which Chiquito has kept his net intact, after clean sheets against Trinidad and Tobago and Romania. There are plenty of teams who would envy such defensive problems.
Argentina's Big Three Make All the Difference
As stated in a previous slide, the Argentine reserves played a solid, dominant game against a Slovenia team which never rolled over. However—to borrow basketball parlance for a moment—the Albiceleste are a different prospect altogether when their Big Three are on the pitch.
Messi, Aguero and Di Maria were all brought on just before the hour mark to finish Slovenia off, and the lift in the Seleccion's spirits was immediately evident. The team began to torture their rivals in the final third, sealing the 2-0 with a wonderful collective move invented by the trio for Messi to finish.