Gerardo Martino’s Argentina reconvene for the first time since the bitter disappointment of their Copa América final defeat this evening against Bolivia in Houston. Prior to the serious task of World Cup qualification starting in October and a busy 2016 schedule, the friendlies provide Martino a chance to look at some new faces. Injuries, more than anything else, have forced this on the former Barcelona boss but for tonight’s match it is expected that captain Lionel Messi will start on the bench and an almost entire second-string eleven will take to the field.
After starting 43 consecutive matches between Argentina and Barcelona it is perhaps time that Lionel Messi had a rest. Not since the Copa del Rey tie against Elche has the world’s best footballer not started and you need to go back to the October2014 friendly against Hong Kong to the last time he started from the bench for La Albiceleste. Despite the criticism, his dedication to the national side has never wavered.
Martino and the rest of the world is all too aware of what Messi is capable of and so it is perhaps a decent idea to allow him to rest and look at other alternatives. However, Martino’s initial squad for these friendlies in the USA didn’t seem to take this into account as the 52-year-old named more or less the same squad that he had taken to Chile. What many of Martino’s detractors pointed to was his failure to call upon fresh blood, the likes of Mauro Icardi, Paulo Dybala and Luciano Vietto.
Resolutely, Martino remained faithful to his very familiar group of players with new Everton signing, Ramiro Funes Mori being the only relatively new face. Subsequent injuries and withdrawals have led Martino naming further surprise reinforcements.
Lucas Biglia, Javier Pastore, Pablo Zabaleta and Ezequiel Garay all reported injured on club duty, Ángel Di María had not yet played for Paris St Germain since completing his transfer and so was lacking fitness and Gonzalo Higuaín did not travel due to a fever. This led to call-ups for Matías Kranevitter, Emmanuel Más, Nicolás Gaitán, Ángel Correa and Gonzalo Rodríguez and four of those additional five are expected to start in Houston.
Kranevitter only penned a deal with Atlético Madrid this week and looks set for a bright future with Argentina. The match against Bolivia will surely be the first of many appearances for La Albiceleste and after dazzling for River, the 21-year-old certainly had a strong claim to be included prior to any injuries. San Lorenzo defender, Emmanuel Más is also set to debut and whether or not he will become a regular remains to be seen.
Milton Casco will start at right-back and is able to play there despite being a natural left-back and in the centre of defence, Martino will pair Funes Mori with Fiorentina’s Gonzalo Rodríguez, back in after a seven-year absence.
Kranevitter in his natural number five role will have a great amount of responsibility with just Roberto Pereyra and the woefully out of form, Érik Lamela alongside him. Quite how Lamela still warrants a place, only Martino knows. Benfica’s Nico Gaitán is one player who would have perhaps expected a recall after the Copa América, in place of Lamela, but it took Di María’s withdrawal to earn a spot. Gaitán should start in attack with two Argentina regulars – Sergio Agüero and Ezequiel Lavezzi.
It is not a selection that will fill supporters with confidence and although it is makeshift and with no disrepect intended to Bolivia should still be strong enough to get a positive result, it is hardly ideal preparation for the opening World Cup qualifier against Ecuador on October 5th.
When the two sides met in the final warm-up before the Copa América, Argentina thrashed Bolivia 5-0 in San Juan but La Verde managed to progress from the group stages once the tournament got underway after a 3-2 win against Ecuador, a goalless draw with Mexico and a heavy defeat to eventual champions, Chile. Peru ended their run in the quarter-finals but in striker Marcelo Martins Moreno Bolivia have someone who might look to test Gerado Martino’s inexperienced defensive unit.