Copa America 2011 Results: How Argentina Conquered Costa Rica to Advance
After two disappointing draws against Bolivia and Colombia, Argentina went into Monday's match with Costa Rica needing a win to advance out of Group A.
The host nation entered the tournament as heavy favorites, along with South American powerhouse Brazil. However, after claiming two points from two matches, the Albiceleste were noticeably struggling to find their best form.
Manager Sergio Batista made numerous changes to his starting XI, seeking for the right team chemistry.
The new-look Argentina squad put on a world-class display against Costa Rica. The host nation were able to score in the first half and carry the momentum through the full 90 minutes. The Albiceleste won comfortably by a score of 3-0.
Argentina conquered Costa Rica, advancing to the knockout stages. Here are the keys to their success on Monday night.
Numbers in Attack
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After two lackluster performances against Bolivia and Colombia, manager Sergio Batista made numerous changes to his starting XI for Argentina’s clash with Costa Rica.
The Albiceleste played a Barcelona-esque 4-3-3 in their first two matches of the group stage. Although reigning Ballon d’Or winner Lionel Messi spearheaded the attack, the host nation was unsuccessful in their attempts to emulate the European champions’ style of play.
Needing a win to progress into the knockout stage, Batista sacrificed one of his three central midfielders for another attacking option. Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain and Angel di Maria replaced Ezequiel Lavezzi, Carlos Tevez and Esteban Cambiasso in Argentina’s starting XI.
Batista set out to win the match with his dynamic attacking quartet. Messi and his new supporting cast looked to overwhelm the Costa Rican defense.
Argentina’s attacking mindset, team selection and formation was key to their impressive 3-0 victory.
Fernando Gago and Javier Mascherano
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The inclusion of Fernando Gago alongside Javier Mascherano in midfield had a significant impact on Argentina’s passing rhythm and possession play.
The Albiceleste played most of their first two matches at a walking pace. The central midfield trio of Mascherano, Cambiasso and Ever Banega failed to take control of the match and dictate play.
Although Gago did not play regular first-team football for Real Madrid last season, he was sharp and composed on the ball against Costa Rica. He hit a couple of raking passes and showed the ability to pick out teammates in tight spaces.
Unlike the more conservative midfield-three that played in the opening matches, Gago was more aggressive with his passing. The Madrid midfielder did not settle for negative and square passes.
Gago infused some pace into Argentina’s passing play. He looked to play one-two’s with the strikers and get forward in support of the attack.
Although the Madrid midfielder had a strong influence in possession, he contributed on both sides of the ball. The Argentina supporters applauded Gago for his work-rate and determination to close down opponents. He had a few bad touches on the ball, but the Argentine would lounge into the slide tackle and fight to win back possession.
While he may not get the recognition of Messi and Aguero, Gago was one of the Albiceleste’s star performers against Costa Rica.
True No. 9 Striker
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Batista’s decision to use a traditional No. 9 striker saved Argentina’s Copa America dream.
Although Messi has excelled in a central position for Barcelona, he was largely ineffective in that role during the Albiceleste’s first two matches. With Tevez and Lavezzi out wide, and the little magician dropping deep to get on the ball, Argentina did not have a player to lead the line.
Against Costa Rica, Batista selected Higuain to play as that leading striker upfront. Pushed up against the last defender, the Madrid forward gave structure to the Argentine attack.
Higuain’s introduction as the central striker provided Messi and Aguero with more space and freedom in the final third. The Madrid frontman occupied two centre-backs, providing intelligent movement and threatening to get in behind the defense.
Although Higuain was heavily criticized for his poor finishing, his presence in and around the box was key to Argentina’s impressive attacking display.
Sergio Agüero Providing Width
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After coming off the bench against Bolivia and Colombia, Aguero finally earned a place in the starting XI.
The Atletico Madrid striker had been Batista’s super-sub, coming on late to score a stunning volley in their opening match. His strike saved the Albiceleste from suffering a humiliating defeat against Bolivia.
Aguero featured on the left-wing in the decisive match against Costa Rica. The Atletico striker provided genuine width, which Argentina lacked in their opening matches. With Tevez, Messi and Lavezzi as the attacking trio, the Albiceleste had been narrow upfront.
Aguero stretched the field with his exceptional play out wide. The striker would cut inside on his right-foot, and open up space down the flank for the pacy di Maria.
The Atletico striker was sensational on Monday night, netting two goals in his first start of the 2011 Copa America. Aguero’s understanding with Messi proved too much for the Costa Rican defense. The Barcelona star played a perfectly-weighted pass for Aguero, who timed his run well and dispatched a clinical finish for Argentina’s first goal.
Lionel Messi's Freedom
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Although Messi was not among the scorers on Monday, he was the most dangerous player on the pitch.
The little magician provided two assists, setting up goals finished by Aguero and di Maria. Messi played two precise, well-timed passes that unlocked the Costa Rican defense.
The Barcelona star was under the spotlight after sub-par performances against Bolivia and Colombia. Messi was unable to influence the opening matches from his central position.
In Batista’s changed starting XI, the Argentine No. 10 featured in a right-wing role. Although Messi was given the freedom to move inside and drift into pockets of space, he started the match out on the flank.
By playing out wide, Messi was given more time and space on the ball. In the first two matches, the Barcelona star was closed down by two centre-backs whenever he received the ball. In his right-wing position, Messi was able to get free, turn and run at defenders with more regularity.
The Argentine No. 10 excelled in his playmaking role against Costa Rica. With Higuain as the lead striker, Messi was allowed to cut inside and drop deep without leaving vacant space upfront. The Barcelona star’s dribbling, passing and vision created havoc in the final third.
After a poor start to the tournament by his unbelievably high standards, Messi delivered a world-class performance from his playmaking role out wide.
If Batista continues to play the No. 10 in a similar position, Argentina will be tough to beat in the knockout stages.