A Walter Ayovi powerdrive consigned Argentina to another defeat in the high altitudes to leave them with a battle to qualify when matches resume.
After failing to take their chances earlier in the game, Diego Maradona’s men faded dramatically as the match wore on and were eventually punished with two high quality strikes.
True to Maradona’s word, Argentina began the match with different personell and formation for the trip to Ecuador. The unorthadox 3-3-1-3 formation was gone and in its place was a more steady 4-4-2 formation. Daniel Diaz, the hero against Columbia, was dropped from the defence and replaced by competitive debutant Nicolas Otamendi. Javier Zanetti also started at right back after an impressive substitute appearance at the weekend ensuring that Argentina played with full backs.
A four man midfield saw Maxi Rodriguez brought back to the right side with Jonas Gutierrez keeping his place on the left despite a disappointing performance against Columbia. Fernando Gago reverted to his more familiar central midfield role and was partnered alongside holding midfielder Sebastian Battaglia in place of the suspended Javier Mascherano. Perhaps the most unsurprising feature of the starting line up was the strikeforce of Lionel Messi and Carlos Tevez. However, several people were slightly surprised at Messi’s inclusion consideration the little striker has played two years without a break. Many suspected that target man Diego Milito or Argentina based Gonzalo Bergessio may have got a start.
Despite all of the recent criticism aimed at Maradona and his team, Argentina started very well and perhaps shocked Ecuador with their early intent. In the 4th minute, Carlos Tevez was put through on goal but unfortunately hit a weak shot at Marcelo Elizaga in the Ecuador goal. At this stage, Lionel Messi was giving the home side all sorts of problems and he nearly put Maxi Rodriguez through but the winger was just offside. However, Messi will not want to remember the next Argentina opportunity as Gabriel Heinze swung a perfect cross into the striker’s path but he somehow managed to hit wide with the goal gaping.
Ecuador were still struggling to get into the game and in the 28th minute, Carlos Tevez was brought down in the penalty area and the away side were awarded a penalty. Tevez picked himself up to take the spot kick but agonisingly hit a weak effort straight at the goalkeeper.
The penalty seemingly woke Ecuador up and the home side spurred on by the crowd started to play their football and nearly opened their account with an Antonia Valencia strike although both teams went in at half time with the score at 0-0.
As the second half progressed, Ecuador were coming more into the game whilst Argentina, perhaps starting to tire from the altitude, were beginning to see their defence come under heavy pressure. Nevertheless, the first golden chance of the half fell to Argentina as a Heinze cross was poorly pushed into Fernando Gago’s path by the goalkeeper. However, Elizaga made up for his error with a tremendous save at point blank range in the 59th minute.
This proved to be Argentina’s final good chance of the match as Ecuador took control yet struggled to test Andujer. However, the home side made the crucial breakthrough in the 71st minute as Walter Ayovi struck a fantastic shot from about 30 yards that Andujer managed to get his fingertips to but had no chance of keeping out.
Maradona’s men were rattled and although Gonzalo Bergressio, Juan Veron and Diego Milito were introduced, there was no way back for them as a Martin Demichellis mistake saw Pablo Palacios pounce and place a well timed shot into the top left hand corner. Argentina’s misery was almost further confounded as Joffre Gueron hit the inside of the post with a missile strike from around 30 plus yards.
Overall, Maradona will rue the fact that his side missed so many opportunities to take what would have been a crucial lead in the first half. Although he will be pleased with some good early signs, he will be concerned at how badly his team fell away when put under significant pressure in a tricky environment. What is noticable is that Maradona tends to change formation and his players in every match. The coach needs to decide on a stable formation that will complement his best players and stick to it. If not, then Argentina will struggle to find any rhythm and performances will often be very hit and miss. With Brazil and Paraguay up next, Maradona knows that his country’s place at the 2010 World Cup is far from secure.