5 things from Argentina’s victory over Guatemala

Golazo regular Jimmy Lee was in Los Angeles to watch the first steps in a new era for Argentine football and took five things away from La Albiceleste’s comfortable win over Guatemala…

The Los Angeles Coliseum is one of the most famous stadiums in the United States. It is currently the home of the University of Southern California and Los Angeles Rams American football teams, the former being one of the most successful programs ever. It hosted both the 1932 and 1984 Summer Olympic games. It was the host stadium of the first ever Super Bowl in 1967. And on September 7, 2018, it was another historic night in the history of the stadium as three members of the Argentina National Team would score their first goals for their country.

The absence of so many of the established stars from recent years meant it was going to be a new look Argentina and so when Lionel Scaloni announced the starting 11, only three members of the World Cup team in Russia were listed, and only two of the three actually played in the World Cup. The scene was set for some of the younger up and coming members of the squad to prove that they deserved to be taken seriously as they put on Argentina shirt.

For those who watched the match in person, or stayed up until after midnight in Argentina, there was a lot to learn from this young group. No Guatemala is not a powerhouse national team, and there will probably be a lot more to learn when Argentina faces more difficult opponents in the future. But the seeds were planted for this new edition of Argentina.

It may only have been a friendly but there was a lot to take from Argentina’s victory – here are five takeaways…

Giovanni Simeone Deserves a Shot as Argentina’s Number 9

It can’t be easy having your father be one of the most famous footballers ever in Argentina and one of the best coaches in Europe. The moment Gio walked onto the pitch for Argentina and made his first ever appearance for the Albiceleste, he was 105 caps short of equaling his old man. But what a debut it was. He found himself on the end of several opportunities and converted his first ever goal in the 44th minute. 

In the past decade, Argentina has had a plethora of goal scoring forwards to choose from. Several fans questioned in the past why the likes of Lucas Pratto and Darío Benedetto would get a chance ahead of the more proven scorers, Sergio Agüero and Gonzalo Higuaín.

Similar questions will probably be asked in the future if Simeone continues to start in place of Mauro Icardi and Lautaro Martínez. But Gio was given a shot, and he took full advantage of it. Whether Simeone remains Argentina’s starting number nine or even warrants such status remains to be seen but his performance against Guatemala certainly didn’t harm his chances and the 23-year-old deserves further opportunities.

The moment was not too big for Renzo Saravia

When Gabriel Mercado and Eduardo Salvio were ruled out through injury, Lionel Scaloni made a last-minute call up to Renzo Saravia. In a week of practice, Saravia impressed Scaloni enough that he felt he deserved a spot in the starting 11 over fellow Cordobés Fabricio Bustos. Within 20 seconds of the match, the ball made its way to 25-year old right back. Without any fear he took on the Guatemalan winger, and after some fancy footwork, dribbled the ball past his defender and moved the attack forward.

A confident start and one which paved the way for an accomplished debut for one of Argentina’s lesser-known newcomers. 

In the press conference with Scaloni after the match, Argentina’s interim coach was full of praise for the Racing full-back. “Renzo Saravia is an interesting player and tonight he proved he can contribute to the team. He had a great game,” Scaloni responded to my question regarding the late call-up.

Saravia was solid in defense when he needed to be, but on a night when Argentina controlled the majority of the possession, the Racing right back was a key member of the attack. He was able to link up well with Cristian Pavón down the right side and played several quality crosses into the box. As was the theme of the night, Saravia was another who was given a chance and did not disappoint. At no moment during the match did he look afraid or timid, he looked like he believed he deserved to be on that pitch, and he did.

Why did Giovani Lo Celso not play a single minute in the World Cup?

What was one of the most baffling and frustrating decisions of the World Cup became even more of a baffling and frustrating decision after the performance of Giovani Lo Celso on Friday night. After recently moving from Paris Saint-Germain to LaLiga club Real Betis, Lo Celso finally got into the starting 11 for Argentina in the first match after the World Cup. 

Giovani Lo Celso was in a strong position to be a starter during the World Cup, including starting the only preparation match against Haiti. But once the team got to Russia, Lo Celso did not play a single minute of any of the four matches. The young Rosarino looked like he would become a good midfield general and could help distribute the ball to Messi and others, but that chance never came. 

Against Guatemala, it wasn’t Messi that Lo Celso was passing the ball to, but Simeone, Pavón and Martinez. However, Lo Celso did more than just spray the ball around the pitch, he took a shot that went off a Guatemalan arm and led to a penalty and Argentina’s first goal and he scored the team’s second goal with a vicious strike from outside the box. Lo Celso’s impact was felt all over the field. 

We haven’t seen Mascherano’s replacement, yet

It was surprising to some when Javier Mascherano was including in the World Cup 23-man roster, but many assumed he would be more of a player/coach role. When he actually started every single match, it was clear Argentina did not have a backup option. Mascherano had been one of the most important members of the National Team for over a decade but was clearly coming to the end of his impactful career. So why did he start all four World Cup matches? Sampaoli must have believed he was the best choice.

Against Guatemala, two young Argentines tried to fill the hole left by the legend. In the first half it was Leandro Paredes and in the second it was Santiago Ascacibar. While neither of them had poor performances, neither was at a level of Mascherano. Which is to be expected. Paredes and Ascacibar are 24 and 22 years old, respectively. Paredes made three appearances for Argentina in the lead up to the past World Cup and Ascacibar made his first ever appearance for the senior team against Guatemala.

Both players are still young and inexperienced. Both will get more time with Argentina and will improve. It is likely that neither will ever reach the level of Mascherano, but few players ever will. However, the two are special talents – Paredes far more of a passer and deep-lying playmaker than Mascherano ever was and Ascacibar, whose bustling, ball winning style looks an ideal Mascherano replacement. Given time and experience, the latter looks primed for that spot.

This team actually seemed to enjoy themselves

At no point during the World Cup, or even in the majority of the matches leading up to the World Cup, did it look like Argentina was having fun together. They were under so much pressure that it was impossible to enjoy playing the game they love. That was not the case for the players on the pitch Friday night against Guatemala. 

After each of the three goals, all ten outfield players joined in on the celebrations. Everyone seemed legitimately happy to be on the pitch with each other. There was no pressure on this team. Even had they lost, while it might have been embarrassing, it would not have been a devastating result. From pitch side, the team were laughing and joking together in the pregame and as the went into the locker room. Of course, they all took the match seriously, it was a huge opportunity for all of them, but they did so with smiles on their faces. The joy that had been missing for the past couple of years was back.

Lionel Scaloni said in the post-match press conference, “[The team] understood what it meant to wear the shirt, and I hope these kids get many more chances.”

It was just one match but for this new era of the Argentina national team, it was a start in the right direction and something Scaloni can continue to build on.

Jimmy lived in Córdoba, Argentina as a teenager and is still an active Socio for his beloved club, Belgrano. He currently lives in Seattle, WA and loves to write about football when he has a break from work and family. He also runs the Belgrano – English twitter account.


One response to “5 things from Argentina’s victory over Guatemala

  1. I agree with a lot of your analysis except the first. At this time Giovanni Simeone is NO WHERE near a #9 for la seleccion. If he was, he would have scored more than once from his 6/7 chances, most of which were missed before taken because of bad positioning. Defenders were beating him to a positioning in the box and other times he was just slow to the second post like when Pavon passed a perfect tap in there. He is in line behind Aguero, Icardi, L. Martinez, and even dybala. But I will say Palacios passing was impressive as well as pity Martinez speed on the wing and crosses into the box. Future does look bright for Argentina given that a proper coach comes in and knows how to use such talent…

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