This July, the Argentine national team has the distinct honor of hosting the Copa América. With that honor, comes a the pressure to win the tournament as Argentina has been runner up to Brazil in both 2004 and 2007.
To add to that pressure, Argentina has not won any international tournament since 1993 (excluding the Olympics). For a country like Argentina, that is a tough pill to swallow given all the talent and expectations they have had over the past 18 years.
On Saturday, Argentina will face the USA National Team in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Just a few days later, they will play against Costa Rica in San José.
One would think both teams should be pushovers for the Albiceleste, but both teams will be a good test as they boast impressive records at home. Additionally, in their last meeting, Argentina drew 0-0 against the Americans—mainly due to the brilliant goalkeeping from Tim Howard—back in June 2008.
Although Carlos Tévez, Sergio Agüero and Gonzalo Higuaín will be absent, there are plenty of other options for Argentina to use.
A recent injury to Sergio Romero will most likely put Mariano Andújar in between the sticks. Andújar has not seen many caps since the World Cup Qualifying campaign but has been doing quite well for Catania in the Serie A.
There will be no surprise at the right back role as Javier Zanetti looks to earn his 140th cap. At 37, he still plays at a world class level. Too bad shady politics behind closed doors kept him out of the 2006 and 2010 World Cups. Do not worry, he will still be Argentina's best option by 2014 at right back.
Hopefully Batista will be smart enough to continue to rely on the legendary defender/midfielder instead of an Ariel Garce or Lionel Scaloni type player.
On the left flank, Marcos Rojo from Spartak Moscow did a good enough job against Portugal to warrant a return. At only 21 years old, it is crucial that Argentina find young defenders who can eventually transition into regulars at the international level instead of the heavy reliance on players such as Gabriel Heinze and Martín Demichelis who have been heavily criticized in recent years for their dip in form.
Even Gabriel Milito has begun to show he is not the same defender as he was in years past. Most likely, we will see Nicolás Burdisso paired up with Nicolás Otamendi in the middle. Otamendi is quickly becoming a crucial part to FC Porto's run at Europa and domestic league glory.
Other newcomers to the backline include Federico Fazio (Sevilla) and Ezequiel Garay (Real Madrid). It will be essential for Argentina to start capping these defenders regularly in order to form a chemistry just like Brazil has been doing with Dani Alves, David Luiz, Thiago Silva and Andre Santos.
Anchoring the midfield will be none other than current captain Javier Mascherano. Mascherano would pair up well with either Éver Banega or Esteban Cambiasso as both are excellent box-to-box midfielders.
Crucial to the attack is Javier Pastore, who is a must start. The young playmaker is ready enough to handle 90 minutes of international competition.
Watch out for Fernando Belluschi (FC Porto) as he makes his return to the national team. Belluschi has been turning many heads in Europe with his scintillating playmaking ability in Portugal and in the Europa League.
Is Belluschi here to stay? Based on his club form, he certainly deserves a few chances to distribute the ball to the likes of Ángel di María, Ezequiel Lavezzi and of course Lionel Messi.
Only Argentina can still be dangerous when Carlos Tévez, Sergio Agüero and Gonzalo Higuaín are all absent. While di María and Lavezzi are considered more of a winger than a pure striker, both can score from anywhere on the pitch.
Lionel Messi, the main attraction, was recently declared fit for the match after getting a knock at the club level. At one point, he was criticized for not replicating his club form for his country.
But recently, he has been picking up momentum by setting up teammates with goal opportunities while putting away a few in the back of the net as well. If Messi can continue this going into the Copa América, there is no telling how he will play in front of his fellow countrymen in July.
Under no circumstances though, can anyone discount the USA National Team. Unfortunately, the US suffered a major blow by losing attacking midfielder Stuart Holden for the next six months.
Not only will he miss this weekend against Argentina, Holden will also be absent during the Gold Cup this summer—a tournament that decides which team plays in the 2013 Confederations Cup.
What a shame because Holden was playing excellent for Bolton this season and many supporters were looking forward to seeing Holden link up with Michael Bradley, Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey in the midfield.
Hopefully Sacha Kljestan, Maurice Edu or Jermaine Jones can pick up the slack, but for once the Americans do have several options in the midfield.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the backline and the forwards. Up front, Jozy Altidore continues to be the best option, but after him there is no one else who has been able to be a formidable striker other than Charlie Davies, who is still has a long way to go before he is ready for international competition.
In defense, we will most likely see the usual suspects with Carlos Bocanegra, Jonathan Bornstein, Jonathan Spector and Oguchi Onyewu. Tim Ream, Tim Chandler and Eric Lichaj have a chance to make a good impression by trying to stop Messi and company, but that is a tough task for any defender.
Fortunately for the US, Tim Howard will be stopping the shots. If he can replicate his 2008 friendly performance against the Argentines, everyone at the stadium (myself included) will be in for quite a show.
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