“Now starts another Copa, now it is all or nothing,” Lionel Messi declared after Argentina defeated Qatar to book their place in the Copa América quarter-final against Venezuela.
La Albiceleste have been far from impressive after suffering defeat to Colombia and scraping a draw with Paraguay before securing the required three points against Qatar but Messi is absolutely right that the tournament begins now. Only four teams cut from the group stage now leaves eight and in a knockout bracket with no extra-time period for the quarter-finals there is no margin for error.
Finishing second in Group B ahead of Paraguay but behind Colombia saw Argentina avoid a potential quarter-final with traditional powerhouses Brazil or Uruguay and while the record books suggest Venezuela will pose far less of a threat, La Vinotinto are far from the continent’s whipping boys of old.
——— (Últimos 9 años)
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— 𝙎𝙤𝙘𝙘𝙚𝙧𝘿𝙖𝙩𝙖𝙑𝙀𝙉 (@SoccerDataVEN) June 26, 2019
Nineteen consecutive victories to Argentina is how the two sides’ head-to-head began but since Venezuela scored their first ever win over La Albiceleste during World Cup qualification in 2011, things have been far more even.
A flattering 4-1 win for Argentina at this stage of the tournament in 2016 aside, Venezuela picked up two draws during the subsequent World Cup qualifying process and followed that up with a thoroughly deserved friendly win over Lionel Scaloni’s side in Madrid in March.
It may only have been a friendly but a number of those same players will be in action on Friday afternoon under the guidance of Scaloni and many of the same problems remain. Problems that were ruthlessly exposed by Venezuela.
The power of centre-forward Salomón Rondón with the pace down the wings of Jhon Murillo and Darwin Machís will again be the focus up against a creaking Argentine backline that has looked anything but secure.
Rafael Dudamel’s settled and well-drilled eleven are in stark contrast to Scaloni’s muddled, disjointed outfit and the Argentina coach is poised to name his 13th different side in his 13th game in charge.
Stumbling across a front-two that at least makes Argentina a threat and should work talented Venezuelan Wuilker Fariñez, Scaloni will stick with Sergio Agüero and Lautaro Martínez ahead of the floating Lionel Messi but it is balancing midfield and defence that remains more taxing.
Marcos Acuña diplayed during his second half cameo against Qatar that the Sporting CP midfielder may help in that regard and certainly will provide greater support to Nicolás Tagliafico than Giovani Lo Celso would do. Chopping and changing has not helped Lo Celso much and with the youngster being asked to occupy a number of different roles his influence has diminished.
Acuña and Rodrigo de Paul will be tasked with doing much of the box-to-box work to accompany Leandro Paredes and ensure that Venezuela are unable to take too much of a grip on the game but shielding the back four will be vital.
Right-back has clearly been an issue for Scaloni with Renzo Saravia and Milton Casco both starting games. However, it would appear a third option will be tested against Venezuela with Juan Foyth shifting across from the centre to allow Germàn Pezzella to partner Nicolás Otamendi centrally.
Foyth, by no means a natural full-back, has featured sparingly there for Tottenham and tucking in could help contain Rondón but if left exposed in those wide areas will be targeted by Murillo.
A Venezuela victory would not be the upset that many view it as and while that in itself highlights the decline in Argentine football as much as it does the rise of the Vinotinto, it also sets up perhaps the most intriguing of the quarter-finals.
Argentina probable XI: Franco Armani; Juan Foyth, Germàn Pezzella, Nicolás Otamendi, Nicolás Tagliafico; Rodrigo De Paul, Leandro Paredes, Marcos Acuña; Lionel Messi; Sergio Agüero, Lautaro Martínez
Venezuela probable XI: Wuilker Fariñez; Ronald Hernández, Luis Mago, Mikel Villanueva, Roberto Rosales; Júnior Moreno, Tomás Rincón, Yangel Herrera; Jhon Murillo, Darwin Machís, Salomón Rondón