Argentina unable to break Colombia but close to qualification

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Questionable decisions from the referee of Ecuador

Argentina were perhaps a little unlucky not too get more from their fiery encounter with Colombia in the Estadio Monumental on Friday night. A mixture of harsh/bizarre refereeing decisions and outstanding goalkeeping from Colombian goalkeeper, David Ospina kept La Seleccion at bay but despite the goalless draw they edge closer to Brazil 2014. The big talking point in the buildup to the game was the absence of captain, Lionel Messi, still coming back from injury and so only on the bench, leading Alejandro Sabella to opt for Walter Montillo, the Santos playmaker. The game started a quite a fast tempo but boiled over after half an hour when Gozalo Higuain and  Cristian Zapata had a little set to resulting in them both being sent off. With both teams down to 10 men and the second half introduction of Messi, Argentina looked the more likely winners but the linesman twice denied Sergio Aguero as they had two goals ruled out. REPORT AND FULL HIGHIGHTS HERE…..

Despite the loss of talisman, Lionel Messi, Argentina started stronger and the speed of Angel Di Maria caused the Colombian defence problems whilst the midfield was controlled by Lucas Biglia and Javier Macherano. This created some good early opportunites but either the final ball or the brilliance of Ospina was enough to thwart Argentina. As the first half went on, Colombia grew in confidence and their midfield duo of Aguilar and Ramirez began to dominate. The pressure was building on the Argentine defence and a rare slip from Federico Fernandez allowed, Radamel Falcao, one of the hottest centre forwards in the game, a free header from 6 yards. Luckily for Argentina, Falcao was not having one of his best games and he miscued the header.

The flash point after 30 minutes came when Gonzalo Higuain chased down a long ball shackled by AC Milan defender, Cristian Zapata. A little kick out from Higuain and a reaction from Zapata was enough for referee, Marlon Escalante to send them both off.

The second half saw Argentina improve as Messi was introduced and this coincided with Colombia being disadvantaged by the earlier substitution of James Rodriguez through injury and half time removal of Jackson Martinez.

Argentina’s main grievance is the disallowed goal after 70 minutes. Messi had worked the ball wide to Di Maria who then played the ball across the face of the goal. Messi had perhaps strayed into an offside position but did not touch the ball as it rolled to the back post and tapped in by Kun Aguero. For a moment it seemed Argentina had scored but they quickly realised that it had been ruled out.

The draw keeps Argentina top of the qualifying table ahead of their trip to Quito on Tuesday to play Ecuador.  This will be without Higuain and Pablo Zabaleta, who picked up another yellow card last night and has prompted the call up of Clemente Rodriguez. If results go for Argentina, they will be guaranteed a place in Brazil but surely now that is just a formality.

The bigger question that perhaps this performance raised is: how do Argentina cope in the absence of their captain and the best footballer in the world? Heaven forbid Messi missed the World Cup what would Argentina do? Last night’s game with Colombia doesn’t give us the answer, as without Messi, Argentina looked lacking their usual attacking threat. Higuain’s sending off didn’t help matters but the midfield 3 of Montillo, Mascherano and Biglia is a little static. Perhaps Ever Banega would be a better option when he returns from suspension and also the pace and direct running of Lavezzi would offer a better outlet, particularly if flanking Higuain, in tandem with Di Maria. Coach, Alejandro Sabella may also think about experimenting with young Erik Lamela. The former River Plate prodigy has performed superbly for Roma this season, topping their scoring charts from his attacking midfield position and in Messi’s absence his guile might just be what Argentina need.

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