The 2011 version of the Copa America kicked off on Friday, July 1st with a match facing off what is presumably one of the stronger sides on the continent, against one of the weakest. The outcome came as a surprise to nearly everyone.
Argentina have been heralded as candidates to win this cup and not without reason; they are the host nation and happen to be fielding "one of the greatest players of all times."
Sergio Batista, who was brought on as coach of the Argentine national team in replacement of Diego Maradona, had promised a more patient "possession-oriented" game, akin to that of Barcelona.
However, in practice, very little seems to have changed since South Africa 2010.
It would seem a fairly basic notion that that "possession" game which Batista seeks can only be borne of a well-nurtured midfield; Barcelona are as good an example as any. Although you can't rightly expect to rival a midfield built around the likes of Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets, it would seem sensible to begin by fielding a formation suited to your footballing philosophy.
In a post written during the 2010 FIFA world cup, I made note of how football tactics can be like a short blanket; if you want to cover your head, you may risk leaving your feet out in the cold.
It is my belief that Maradona and Batista alike have both fallen prey to a temptation afforded them by a tremendous available wealth of Argentine forwards. The result under both managers has been a top-heavy 4-3-3 formation, rich in fire power but poor in grey matter.
A forward line of Tevez, Messi and Lavezzi (or Aguero) can seem menacing, but is it really? Not if there isn't any glue holding them together. There's no doubting that these players are brilliant, but they all essentially offer the same skill set and neither of them are playmakers proper.
The midfield line of Cambiasso, Mascherano and Banega proved austere at best—two holding mid-fielders and a "solid but not brilliant" Banega as chief playmaker. Javier Mascherano, for one, seems to have grown accustomed to the defensive role assigned him in Barcelona; he was often seen floating into the back line, thus producing an oddly conservative 5-man defense.
Replacing Di Maria for Tevez in the starting lineup was undoubtedly a popular move among the fans, but it may also have cost Argentina valuable options down the wing.
The end result? A frustrated and ineffective Messi, too often obliged to pull far back into the midfield, sacrifice freedoms and take on creative responsibilities with which he is not entirely comfortable.
Bolivia's game plan was simple yet effective: maintain a numerous and layered defense, keep order during the initial wave of Argentine pressure, gradually claim a place on the field and search for the lone yet menacing striker Marcelo Moreno Martins.
Thus not only were Argentina unable to avenge their historic 1-6 defeat away to Bolivia, but they came quite close to suffering a fresh debacle at home in their Copa America debut.