Following the disastrous 6-1 away defeat to Bolivia, Argentina will attempt to get back to basics as they host Columbia in what is shaping up to be an extremely important World Cup Qualifier.
Diego Maradona’s men are currently positioned in the final automatic qualification spot with only 6 games remaining. However, with 5th placed Uruguay breathing down their necks, Argentina need a victory to ensure their big rivals can not overtake them. It’s worth mentioning that a win for Columbia will put them only within 2 points of the faltering Argies. There is quite clearly a lot at stake for both teams and the qualification picture will start to become clearer game by game.
THE SQUAD (26 players)
Juan Carrizo (Lazio)
Federico Vilar (Atlante)
Mariano Andujar (Estudiantes)
Javier Zanetti (Inter Milan)
Marcos Angeleri (Estudiantes)
Gabriel Heinze (Real Madrid)
Emiliano Papa (Velez Sarsfield)
Martin Demichellis (Bayern Munich)
Nicolas Burdisso (Inter Milan)
Daniel Diaz (Getafe)
Juan Forlin (Boca Juniors)
Nicholas Otamendi (Velez Sarsfield)
Jonas Gutierrez (Newcastle)
Maxi Rodriguez (Atletico Madrid)
Fernando Gago (Real Madrid)
Javier Mascherano (Liverpool)
Sebastian Battaglia (Boca Juniors)
Juan Sebastian Veron (Estudiantes)
Daniel Montenegro (Independiente)
Christian Gimenez (Pachuca)
Sergio Aguero (Atletico Madrid)
Lionel Messi (Barcelona)
Carlos Tevez (Manchester United)
Diego Milito (Genoa)
Lisandro Lopez (Porto)
Gonzalo Bergessio (San Lorenzo)
WHO WILL PLAY
Apart from the home clash with Columbia, Argentina also have to travel to Ecuador just several days later for a match that will be played at a high altitude just like the Bolivia game. Maradona has already stated that he will play a different type of team for that game. Therefore, it is likely that a larger number of players currently situated in South America for their club teams will play against Ecuador as they will be more accustomed to the conditions. Since Argentina play Columbia at home, Maradona may revert back to an attack minded 3-4-3 formation that worked well against Venezuela in his first game in charge. It’s worth noticing though that Columbia will offer a greater attacking threat to the Argies despite their own poor away form so far in the qualification campaign.
At the back
Lazio goalkeeper Juan Carrizo is likely to continue in goal but the real questions are whether Maradona will revert to a back three or a back four in defence. In his first game in charge, Maradona, without experienced defender Martin Demichellis, played a back three with Javier Zanetti at right centre back, Gabriel Heinze at left centre back and Marcos Angeleri, known as a rampaging right back, was positioned as a sweeper. Although Venezuela were hardly world beaters, Angeleri’s pace helped limit any threat that the visitors posed up front.
Nevertheless, for the Bolivia disaster, Maradona went for a more traditional formation and experienced personnel with Javier Zanetti at right back, Demichellis and Heinze forming the centre back combination and Emiliano Papa acquiring the left back role. Argentina have had well documented defensive problems throughout their qualification campaign and the Bolivia match really highlighted them. Demichellis and Heinze are both slow defenders and were therefore dropping deeper to give themselves the extra seconds to react to a through ball. However, this opened up the middle of the pitch for Bolivia to exploit and they picked off Argentina time and time again.
With Gabriel Heinze under much criticism from his own fans and Angeleri not a traditional centre back, Maradona may have to experiment with new blood in his defence. Uncapped Boca Juniors 20 year old centre back Juan Forlin has been tipped for the top whilst 21 year old Velez Sarsfield centre back Nicolas Otamendi made an impressive debut in the recent friendly with Panama. Both have been included in the squad and one of them may get a look in.
With this billed as a must win game, Maradona is very likely to stick with former captain Zanetti and experienced Demichellis in his team. If that is the case he will probably stick with a 4-4-2 or 4-3-3 as a three man back line would seriously compromise Demichellis pace. It is quite possible that Nicolas Otamendi will keep his place at the heart of the defence and then it is down to Maradona whether he decides to play the experienced but under fire Gabriel Heinze or Emiliano Papa, who played in the 6-1 defeat, at left back.
For all of Argentina’s defensive problems, the one strength Argentina does have is in the centre of midfield. Captain Javier Mascherano has struck up a formidable partnership with Real Madrid’s Fernando Gago and the two of them are very effective at protecting the back four. Unfortunately, the Argies have been without their two influential holding players as a pairing for the majority of the campaign. Nevertheless, apart from the Bolivia game, the pair have been extremely influential and have kept Esteban Cambiasso out of the team and more recently the squad.
On the other hand, the wing is not currently one of Argentina’s strongest areas. So much in fact that the team are normally set up very narrow in midfield which quite often sees a three man strikeforce in front of a three man midfield. Maxi Rodriguez is the most experienced of all the wingers Argentina have at their disposal and the little Atletico Madrid player is a consistent figure on the right wing. Jonas Gutierrez, who hasn’t had the best of times with Newcastle, tends to play on the left when the four man midfield is deployed.
Assuming Maradona starts with a four man defence, the coach will most likely play with wingers and therefore will line up with Maxi Rodriguez, Mascherano, Gago and Gutierrez. The likes of Juan Sebastian Veron or the uncapped Christian Gimenez may be called upon at some stage in the playmaker/Riquelme role if Argentina are struggling to break their opponents down.
The one thing that is fairly certain for the Columbia game is that Lionel Messi will start. Dubbed “the best player in the world” by many, it is felt that Maradona sees a younger version of himself in Messi. The big question is will Messi be partnered in a front two or three. A huge bonus for Argentina is that Messi is majorly effective in any forward position. More often than not for Barcelona he will play on the right of a front three and cut inside. However, he has also done the same on the left in the past so don’t rule out seeing him anywhere around the frontline. If Argentina adopts a front three approach, expect to see Sergio Aguero leading the line with Messi and Carlos Tevez either side of him. If they go with a front two, then Tevez may possibly be left out.
A major talking point of the recent squad has been the omission of Gonzalo Higuain. The striker was top scorer for Real Madrid last season and many see him as the extra option for a strikeforce that is predominately made up of small, quick and skilful players. However, his omission merely confirms that it will be Messi and one or both of Tevez and Aguero as Diego Milito and Lisandro Lopez are unlikely to force their way on from the start in this crucial home game.
I think Argentina will either go with:
COLUMBIA – PLAYERS TO WATCH
Udinese’s Cristian Zapata is the next in a line of top quality defenders that Columbia seems to produce time and time again. Following in the footsteps of the aging Mario Yepes and Ivan Cordoba, Zapata is blessed with pace and excellent anticipation. The 22 year old was the subject of transfer speculation from Arsenal last summer and there is no doubt that the defender has a huge future in the game. Zapata has been a regular at centre back alongside Yepes in the absence of Cordoba throughout this campaign and is a major reason why Columbia have only conceded 10 goals in 12 qualifiers. Whether or not he will be able to handle Lionel Messi and co is a different question though!
Inter Milan’s Ivan Cordoba is a defender with huge experience and over ten years of service to his club. Regarded as a world class centre back, Cordoba is only 5ft 8 and relies on his electric pace and renowned athleticism. The pint sized defender can play all across the defence and will be sure to feature against Argentina. This represents Cordoba’s first call up for two years following a falling out with the previous coach. Even though the defence, including a strong partnership between Cristian Zapata and Mario Yepes, has coped fine without him, Cordoba’s experience may prove invaluable when face to face with one of the world’s best strikeforce.
River Plate’s Radamel Falcao is the current leading striker for the Columbian national team. The 23 year old has enjoyed a prolific spell with River Plate where he has scored 30 goals in 77 games. However, the striker has not quite managed to transfer that form onto the international stage as of yet. Columbia have currently failed to score in six of the last seven games and the introduction of Falcao as a starter against Brazil and Venezuela has failed to change this trend. Wigan’s Hugo Rodallega is currently being kept on the bench at the expense of Falcao so the River Plate striker needs to start delivering soon. Columbia are known for being extremely solid at the back. Whether or not they trouble an Argentina backline that is creaking remains to be seen.
On the whole, this is a rather tricky match to predict as both teams clearly have problems which need to be sorted sooner rather than later if they both wish to qualify for the 2010 World Cup. Argentina are blessed with possibly three of the most lethal strikers in world football but supporters are dubious as to whether they have enough variety going forward as all three are fairly small and rely on their pace and trickery. They will receive the ultimate test from a defence that will become even more solid with the return of Ivan Cordoba.
You may start to worry for Argentina’s chances at this point when you consider how fragile their defence is at present. However, they will be coming face to face with a Columbia side that are short on confidence, an awful recent away record and very few goals in their team. If Argentina struggle to defend against this lot then you have to wonder whether they are serious contenders for the 2010 World Cup.
All in all, Argentina have the home advantage and Maradona is bound to set his team up in an attacking manner. A lot will depend on whether they are able to get the breakthrough early as the longer it stays goalless, the more confident Columbia will get. I predict either a shock 0-0 draw or a 2-0 Argentina victory depending on whether or not the home side are able to break through in the first half of not.