It isn’t strange for Argentina to face weaker opponents in their final friendly on home soil before a World Cup and while the supporters in La Bombonera will be eager to bid farewell to their heroes with a comfortable victory over Haiti, Jorge Sampaoli must also make use of the little time available to prepare.
Lionel Messi admitted this week that Argentina are not among the favourites in Russia and rightly so after such a woeful qualification process but there remains potential if Sampaoli can find his desired team.
Tuesday’s visit of Haiti to Boca Juniors’ famous Bombonera will provide an invaluable opportunity for the squad with only this and a match against Israel on June 9th before the World Cup opener against Iceland.
Having lost first choice goalkeeper Sergio Romero to injury and Lucas Biglia, Gabriel Mercado and Sergio Agüero reporting for duty not yet 100 per cent, Sampaoli will not want to take any risks on Tuesday and his probable starting eleven reflects that.
Chelsea’s Willy Caballero now battling with River Plate’s Franco Armani for the number one spot, looks set to start in goal, Cristian Ansaldi will start at right-back with Gabriel Mercado settling for a place on the bench and Gonzalo Higuaín will be preferred to Sergio Agüero.
While the formation appears to be a familiar 4-2-3-1, it is worth noting that with how Sampaoli would like Argentina to play, this is very flexible and could easily transform into the much-debated 2-3-3-2 when in possession.
Nicolás Otamendi, reportedly fit from the slight groin complaint that saw him train separately this week, and usual centre-back partner Federico Fazio will hold fixed positions. Javier Mascherano, set to become Argentina’s most-capped player, will sit in his preferred number five role and Gonzalo Higuaín acts as a focal point to the attack but the others positions will look to interchange.
Ansaldi and Nicolás Tagliafico providing width from full-back, Giovani Lo Celso pushing forward to link midfield, and Manuel Lanzini, Lionel Messi and Ángel Di María all aiming to push on in support of Higuaín.
Jorge Sampaoli had hoped to give every available member of the squad some minutes but regulations appear to limit Argentina to six substitutions — which will almost certainly all be used.
Haiti, ranked 108th in the FIFA rankings, didn’t reach the final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying, finishing well below Costa Rica and Panama in their group but will enjoy their chance to play at one of world football’s most iconic stadiums against Messi and Co.
The two nations have met twice before — first at the 1974 World Cup (Haiti’s only appearance at the tournament) where goals by Héctor Yazalde (2), René Houseman and Rubén Ayala gave Argentina a 4-1 win and again in 2010. That friendly at the Monumental ended 4-0 to La Albiceleste, with Facundo Bertoglio (2), Martín Palermo and Sebastián Blanco scoring.
Argentina are of course expected to be comfortable winners again on Tuesday evening but it will hopefully help Sampaoli define his starting eleven and his system ahead of the World Cup opener in less than three weeks.
Argentina v Haiti – Tuesday May 29th – 8pm local time