Whether it was Lionel Messi’s knock in the warm up game against Honduras, Gerardo Martino bringing a number of players to the United States still on the treatment table or Ángel Di María limping off against Panamá, injuries have dominated Argentina’s Copa América Centenario.
Just when things looked to be running smoothly with Gerardo Martino’s side cruising against the United States and a place in the final was all but confirmed, La Albiceleste were dealt three further blows.
Injuries to Ezequiel Lavezzi, Augusto Fernández and Marcos Rojo could cause Gerardo Martino further headaches ahead of Sunday’s final.
Di María had been in fine form prior to his unreliable hamstring’s tweaking and his man of the match display in the opening win against Chile had many supporters painfully recalling the World Cup and last year’s Copa América and pondering what might have been.
However, Messi’s return and the performances of Nicolás Gaitán still provided Argentina with enough pace and guile in attack.
When the new Atlético Madrid playmaker picked up a suspension and joined the list of injured players, it appeared that Martino had a decision to make between Lavezzi and Erik Lamela on the left side of the attack.
Given that Martino has been using Lamela regularly coupled with Lavezzi only just returning from injury and considered fortunate to even be in the United States after his January move to the Chinese Super League, the selection appeared obvious to many.
Martino thought otherwise, opted for experience and was rewarded in full by a rejuvenated Lavezzi.
Messi operating infield in his free role made the selection of a natural wide player in Lavezzi all the more justified and the 31-year-old was able to stretch the play and find a huge amount of space down the left.
His goal after just three minutes rewarded Argentina’s bright opening but the US simply failed to track the run of Pocho and were punished severely.
— Rafael Rojas Acevedo (@RaFfr0) June 22, 2016
Adding a superb assist to his earlier goal, Lavezzi produced his best performance in an Argentina shirt in some time and so it was a cruel moment of misfortune that saw the former Paris Saint Germain forward tumble awkwardly over the advertising hoarding and require immediate medical attention.
Given that Martino is still sweating on the fitness of Di María and Gaitán, the fractured elbow that Lavezzi suffered and that will rule him out of Sunday’s final is a bitter blow.
It wasn’t to be the only piece of bad news for La Albiceleste though as Augusto Fernández shortly went down clutching the back of his leg.
Pre-tournament injury to Lucas Biglia is probably the only reason the Atlético Madrid midfielder got his chance but Augusto has been outstanding partnering Javier Mascherano in central midfield.
Since moving to Spain, Fernández has established himself as more of a defensive midfielder and he excels in this role, alongside Mascherano in winning back the ball and quickly transitioning into attack.
There is however a versatility to the 30-year-old after starting his career with River and Vélez and enjoying success on the right side of midfield. This enables Augusto to perform a dual-function in the team, comfortable sitting in front of the defence but equally adept pushing forward to win the ball higher up the pitch and contribute to the attack.
The medical staff will assess the injury but it seems almost certain that he will be ruled out and Fernández confirmed this immediately after the game: “I realised on the pitch when I felt the pain. It is an injury that will take at least ten days recovery and so I’m out of the final.”
His replacement on Tuesday night was Lucas Biglia and the Lazio midfielder will certainly start in the final in his absence, but given how well Fernández has performed he will be missed.
The final stroke of bad luck saw Marcos Rojo walk gingerly from the pitch in Houston with a thigh strain making him a doubt for Sunday.
— Marcos Rojo (@marcosrojo5) June 22, 2016
The shortage of natural full backs is already a problem in the Argentina squad so to lose Rojo would be significant.
When Gerardo Martino rested the Manchester United defender for the match against Bolivia, he opted to move Ramiro Funes Mori to the left and partnered Nicolás Otamendi with Independiente centre back, Víctor Cuesta. Presumably this would be the solution once more but a new defensive pairing and Funes Mori out of position would not be ideal against either Colombia or Chile.
Argentina will wait for the best possible news in this situation; a third consecutive final defeat is not an option.