In the first of a series of guest blogs for Icons, Daniel Colasimone, editor of the excellent Argentina Football World, gets to the root of Argentina's Copa America failure.
Having travelled around to watch Argentina’s four games in this Copa America the recurring theme surrounding their insipid campaign seems to have been not so much the lack of a game plan but the lack of tactical flexibility required to discover an effective game plan.
Coach Sergio Batista, after a honeymoon period lasting several months, was on the receiving end of heavy criticism from the local press leading into the tournament. Some of it was justified.
Batista failed badly on the man-management side of things, especially regarding the Carlos Tevez affair. After insisting for months that Tevez was surplus to requirements, on the eve of the tournament, Batista did a complete about face and named the Manchester City forward in his squad. He even went so far as to select him in his starting line-up for the opening two games.
Hollow press conferences where he spoke without conveying any actual information and a penchant for posting kitschy pictures on Twitter further estranged Batista from the Argentine media. Going into the tournament, Batista's ideas for the national team did not seem too outrageous at all, at least in my mind. He spoke of exploiting Argentina's greatest asset, Lionel Messi, to his full potential.
He spoke of a Barcelona-style formation, designed to allow Messi to feel most comfortable and to take advantage of Argentina’s abundance of adept passing midfielders and skilful forwards. Batista’s ‘Plan B’, should the Barcelona-cloned 4-3-3 fail to function, would be to switch to a 4-2-1-3, with Messi as enganche (playmaker) behind three forwards. Well and good.
The Selección’s first match was against supposed whipping boys Bolivia in the shiny, roofed La Plata stadium. It’s a newly improved stadium, unique in Argentina that it is not rundown and exposed to the elements, but also in that it lacks much of the atmosphere of most grounds here.
Batista made his first tactical mistake before the match started by, as I’ve already mentioned, shoehorning the people’s choice, Carlos Tevez into the starting XI in place of Angel Di Maria, who had started on the left side of attack in recent friendlies. His midfield three was Javier Mascherano, Ever Banega and Esteban Cambiasso; all ‘number fives’ ostensibly – defensive midfielders with passing ability – with Messi in the ‘false 9’ role in the centre of the front three.
Cambiasso was curiously the midfielder usually found furthest forward, however, rather than the player expected to combine most with Messi, Banega. It didn’t work, and Argentina looked just as lacking in team fluidity as during last year’s World Cup.
Messi left defenders for dead but found nobody to link up with. Tevez went on solo runs that were easily halted by well-positioned defenders. There was no overriding thought pattern linking everything together.
At half time Batista switched to Plan B, bringing on Di Maria for Cambiasso, but Bolivia had scored within minutes of the restart. Argentina at least looked more dangerous, and eventually levelled through substitute Kun Agüero who volleyed in superbly. Bolivia, however, held on for the draw.
Perhaps Bolivia had come to this Copa America with a newfound resolve? Perhaps they would be the surprise packets of the tournament? We would find out in later group games that it was in fact a very limited Bolivian outfit, further damning Argentina’s performance in retrospect.
A post-match interview with one of the Argentine players may have taken the edge of the freezing polar winds that could be felt in all corners of the Estadio Único, but the mixed zone turned out to be an unregulated zoo. Short of crowd surfing my way to the front, there was no way of getting a word with Mascherano, Agüero and co.
Stay tuned next week for Parts Two and Three of Daniel's assessment of Argentina's Copa America shambles...