There is a sense that Argentina have not fully arrived at the Copa América yet after three less than convincing performances in the group stage. The defence looks a tad fragile and the attack has not clicked, or at least not been able to convert some nice build-up play into goals. With the tournament now in the knockout stages, this evening’s quarter final clash with a dangerous, but equally disappointing Colombia side, allows no room for error. Gerardo Martino and his side know that this generation must succeed and with chances running out there will be no better opportunity than in Chile.
So far Argentina have only been able to put together spells of impressive, controlled football: the first half against Paraguay, where the pre-tournament favourite billing looked entirely justified, and prolonged periods in the victory over Uruguay. However, this has been counter-balanced with nervy, wasteful and at times slightly fortuitous spells in all three group matches.
Perhaps the best performance was against Uruguay when Martino’s changes from the side that drew the opener against Paraguay gave Argentina a more solid spine and meant that they were able to control possession far more. In addition to the improvements that Pablo Zabaleta and Lucas Biglia provided, it was also the best performance from Javier Pastore in his playmaker role.
It is little wonder that Martino has opted to name the same side for Friday night’s quarter final against Colombia.
Argentina starting eleven: Sergio Romero; Pablo Zabaleta, Ezequiel Garay, Nicolás Otamendi, Marcos Rojo; Lucas Biglia, Javier Mascherano, Javier Pastore; Lionel Messi (C), Sergio Agüero, Ángel Di María
The return of Sergio Agüero is a timely one after the Manchester City striker demonstrated exactly what he can bring to the side when fully fit in the opening two matches. Gonzalo Higuaín replaced him in the victory over Jamaica and despite getting himself on the scoresheet, was guilty of several missed opportunities. This is an area that Argentina must improve in general as in all three games, had such proligacy not been shown the matches would have been far more comfortable.
When discussing which areas his side needed to improve Gerardo Martino highlighted this, stating that Argentina need to commit more people into the box to finish moves: “Many times we get into good positions down the sides and we need more weight in the box.”
Colombia have had problems of their own and their struggles to get the best from Radamel Falcao appear to be hindering them in attack. After failing to hit the net in the group stages, José Pékerman faces the difficult decision to stick with his misfiring captain or opt for one of his more than able deputies from the bench. Javier Mascherano was a teammate of Falcao at River Plate and told reporters: “Falcaohasdemonstratedthat he isoneofthebestplayers in the world.Atsomepoint the bestFalcao will be on show,hopefully that will notbetomorrow (Friday)“.
But striker selections is not Pékerman’s only headache as suspension and injury have robbed him of midfield duo, Carlos Sánchez and Edwin Valencia.Aston Villa’s Sánchez was the star man in the victory over Brazil and shackled Neymar throughout. The hope will be that Argentina can take advantage of this and dominate the midfield and although Martino referred to this, he anticipates Colombia to play in the exact same way as normal: “The absences of the two midfielders are especially important for Colombia. I don’t know if they have players to replace them in the same way. It is clear that one or the two to come in will be Alexander Mejia, but even with differences in personnel their pattern will be more or less familiar.”
This pattern would appear to centre on a high-pressing game and certainly in training this week, Martino has had his team prepare for this. The other key will be preventing James Rodríguez from pulling the strings in his number ten role. Javier Mascherano will probably be tasked with shutting out the Real Madrid midfielder and nullifies him as a goal threat and a creative source for the strikers.
Now while Martino may appear confident in knowing how Colombia will approach the match, Los Cafeteros have a man in charge who knows all about Argentina.José Pékerman was coach of the Argentina under-20 sides that won three World Cups (1995, 1997,2001) and managed several of the current side as national team boss at the World Cup in 2006.
Argentina’s record against Colombia in the Copa América is won seven, drawn three and lost three and unbeaten in seven.
Since last winning the tournament in 1993, Argentina’s record in the quarter-final is won two and lost two.
Colombia have beaten Argentina just once in their last eleven meetings – a 2-1 victory during World Cup qualification in Bogota eight years ago. Ruben Bustos and Dayro Moreno scored to overturn Lionel Messi’s opener.
In this year’s competition Argentina are the side that have had the most possession with 70% compared to Colombia’s 51% with Martino’s side completing 1,867 passes to Pékerman’s 1,190.
Argentina had 33 shots on goal during the group stage, only Chile had more but with 18 on target Argentina had the most. However this brought just 4 goals.
Colombia meanwhile are, alongside Peru, the only side to have won a group phase game with just one shot on target and only scored in one of their last four Copa América matches.
James Rodríguez is the only Colombian player to have fired more than one shot on target in the Copa America group phase (two).
No side attempted more crosses (including corners) in the group phase than Colombia (70, as many as Ecuador).
Colombia won the most fouls in the Copa America group phase this year (61).
Argentina have scored in all their Copa America quarter-finals while it has been in its current format.
Colombia are the only side to have conceded eight or more goals twice against Argentina in the Copa America (9-1 in 1945 and 8-2 in 1957)
Lionel Messi has been the player with the most successful passes in the opposite half of the group phase (142).
Among players with more than 200 passes, Javier Mascherano had the highest passing accuracy (92.74%).