An unlikely second half winner from Getafe defender Daniel “Cata” Diaz saw Argentina scrape to victory over a short of confidence Columbia side in Buenos Aires.
A corner from the recently recalled Juan Sebastien Veron eventually found Diaz at the back post who expertly volleyed an unstoppable shot past David Ospina in the Columbia goal to give Diego Maradona’s side some breathing space in the race to qualify despite a far from convincing victory.
Argentina began the match with a very attacking and unorthadox line up. The front three of Messi, Aguero and Tevez appeared as expected although defensively the line up looked very exposed. Juan Sebastian Veron took up the playmaker role that Juan Roman Riquelme had inhabited for many years before his retirement from the national team. It was a fair surprise that Maradona had reverted back to using a playmaker after many failed attempts from previous bosses to base their team around one. Javier Mascherano and Fernando Gago were expected to drop and protect the back line when posession was lost except Gago had been instructed to marshall the right hand side, something which he was clearly not used to. Jonas Gutierrez attempted to give the team some much needed width although too often he was seemingly caught operating as more of a wing back than a winger. The defence of Diaz, Demichellis and Heinze was set up extremely narrow and was reliant on Gago and Gutierrez filling the wide roles when defending. Goalkeeper Mariano Andujer made his debut for Argentina replacing Juan Carrizo due to a lack of match fitness. However, there was no starting place for experienced defender Javier Zanetti or dynamic right winger Maxi Rodriguez.
Columbia decided to do the exact opposite of Argentina and not over complicate matters by fielding a standard 4-4-2 formation. Mario Yepes and Cristian Zapata continued their strong partnership at the heart of the defence whilst Atletico Madrid’s pacey full back Luis Perea made a start at right back with Pablo Armero at left back. Tricky Porto winger Freddy Guarin looked to expose Argentina’s lack of width in right midfield whilst Vladimar Marin was positioned on the left. Siena’s Juan Zuniga was the anchorman in midfield and Fabian Vargas looked to make the difference by joining the attack whenever he could. Wason Renteria, who has attracted interest from several European clubs, started up front along with Falcao Garcia who was under pressure to perform for his national team. This meant that Wigan’s Hugo Rodallega had to settle for a place on the bench and the returning Ivan Cordoba also had to watch from the sidelines.
Despite Columbia’s need for a victory, all the pressure was on Argentina going into the game as they were expected to respond to the 6-1 mauling they received in Bolivia. Nevertheless, it was Columbia who started the brighter as Falcao Garcia’s cross from the right hand side was only just tipped over the bar from the debutant Andujer. From the resulting corner, a nervous punch and blocked shot did little to ease the nerves of the masses packed into the Antonia Vespucio Liberti Stadium.
Argentina’s play lacked conviction early on and Vladimir Marin’s shot from near enough 30 yards on the left hand side was just about kept out from Andujer who was much the busier goalkeeper early on. Just a minute later, the Argentina defence seemed to be at sixes and sevens as Renteria was in space at the edge of the area but his drive was straight at Andujer.
The unorthadox formation was clearly not working for Argentina. Juan Veron was struggling to get into the game and the back three were needlessly playing long balls that the front three chased in vain. The home sides midfield didn’t seem to provide any width or stability in the centre as Gago seemed confused by his role towards the right and Gutierrez was operating from too deep to make an impact going forward.
The first Argentina opportunity came in the 21st minute as Veron played in Lionel Messi down the left and his dinked cross towards Gago at the back post was crucially intervened by Ospina in the Columbian goal. This was as good as it got in the first half for Argentina as a mixture of poor free kicks and sloppy passes allowed Ospina a comfortable half in goal.
In fact, the best moment of the half was created by Falcao Garcia who flicked up the ball and shot from the edge of the area towards the left hand corner but fortunately the ball was at a comfortable height for Andujer.
With five minutes left of the first half, Sergio Aguero was withdrawn with what looked to be a suspected knee problem and was replaced by recent Inter Milan signing Diego Milito. Many supporters and pundits were wondering if this could have been a blessing in disguise for Argentina as the target man added a new dimension to Maradona’s attack and had the build to make the long ball approach from the Argentina defenders more effective.
Before the second half began, Argentina made another substitution. Veteran full back Javier Zanetti was introduced in place of Fernando Gago who had never got to grips with his different role. This meant that Argentina lined up with a more conventional formation at the beginning of the second period.
This formation change proved to be the difference in the match as it gave Argentina the proper balance and framework to attack Columbia whilst holding a decent shape in case they lost posession. Messi was instructed to join the attack at every possible opportunity whilst Mascherano had the sole job of sitting in front of the defence. Most importantly though, the formation change gave Argentina much needed width and took away the threat of the lively Guarin and Marin on the flanks for Columbia.
Maradona’s troops got their reward shortly into the second half. A magnificent free kick in the 52nd minute from Lionel Messi crashed against the bar and eventually was cleared for a corner. The resulting set piece from Juan Veron saw the goal arrive as Martin Demichellis got the faintest of touches to flick the ball to Daniel Diaz at the back post who volleyed into the net for 1-0.
Although Argentina were in control, their much criticised defence was starting to look shaky as Wason Renteria drilled a low ball across the face of the goal and Falcao Garcia couldn’t quite add to his three goals for Columbia by making the relevant contact to send the ball past the helpless Andujerin the 62nd minute.
The game was beginning to get fairly scrappy and both sides had chances. Firstly, Argentina’s Javier Mascherano intercepted a loose pass and drove past the defenders forcing a good save out of Ospina before Juan Zuniga sliced wide from the left hand side when positioned well for Columbia.
The away side made several changes including bringing on Hugo Rodallega for the once again disappointing Falcao Garcia in an attempt to rescue a point. In an attempt to counter this, Maradona removed the hard working Carlos Tevez to a chorus of boos after another tireless performance and replaced him with Inter Milan defender Nicolas Burdisso as Argentina looked to see out the game.
As the expected fireworks in the last few minutes failed to materialise, Argentina were thankful to hang on to the victory even though they had failed to put the team’s recent fralities that had been exposed to rest. Fortunately, Columbia showed why they have only scored six goals throughout the entire campaign as a lack of potency in front of goal cost them when they really could have put Argentina under pressure. Maradona will be delighted to put a bit of breathing space between them and the nations below but the legendary striker doesn’t seem to have the coaching expertise needed to take his team all the way. Can anybody realistically see Maradona outfoxing a Hiddink or a Capello on the big stage?
Andujer – 8
Diaz – 8
Demichellis – 6
Heinze – 6
Gago – 4
Mascherano – 7
Gutierrez – 5
Veron – 6
Messi – 6
Aguero – 5
Tevez – 7
Milito – 6
Zanetti – 7
Burdisso – N/A