Thursday, June 27

Argentina lacking game plan


FIRING BLANK: Argentina’s Gonzalo Higuain walks off the field after their match against Colombia in Santa Fe. — Reuters photo

Hosts tied up in knots at the ‘elephants graveyard’, booed by fans

BUENOS AIRES: Argentinian football fans call the Brigadier Estanislao Lopez stadium in Santa Fe the elephants’ graveyard.

Although Argentina did at least manage to avoid defeat Wednesday against Colombia to keep alive their hopes of reaching the quarter-finals of their own Copa America they are clearly in a hole after another terribly disjointed performance on the back of their previous draw with Bolivia.

Normal advice when in a hole is to stop digging to avoid making the problem worse, especially when you have failed to deliver the goods for 18 years – Argentina’s last senior trophy coming at the 1993 Copa.

But Colombia had already done much of the spadework for themselves by beating Costa Rica in their opening game to take the pressure off themselves in Group A.

Adding another point at the hosts’ expense raises the question as to whether they may also have buried Argentinian hopes of glory in the process.

On paper, Argentina have everything they need – a solid goalkeeper, an experienced defence, a stylish and dynamic midfield and more attacking power than they even need in the shape of Lionel Messi, Carlos Tevez, Gonzalo Higuain, Sergio Aguero, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Diego Milito.

What they appear to lack is a recipe, a game plan.

Fans who had been so enthusiastic ahead of the first ever competitive international at the venue in this most decentralised of events that they had gate crashed Tuesday training booed the side long before the end and once again the cameras zoomed in on the sunken shoulders of Messi.

Messi, whom local media described after the match as having looked “like an ordinary and disorientated player,” just as against the Bolivians, can do nothing wrong when he dons a Barcelona shirt.

In Argentina’s colours he can do almost nothing right.

With qualification in the balance – though Costa Rica will surely be sent packing in the final group game – it will be of little comfort to the world’s best footballer that neither Pele nor Diego Maradona before him won the Copa.

Wherever he went he found Carlos Sanchez and Mario Yepes had his number – and they kept him in their pockets throughout.

The Colombians also had time to lock out Tevez, the wantaway Manchester City striker having to admit that a win would have been undeserved.

“They were tough opponents – they knew how to mark us – though we knew it would be difficult. All these games are,” said the “Apache”.

“The boos hurt – but we’ll haul ourselves out of this,” the striker promised.

And coach Serio Batista had to admit that “things aren’t quite going the way we had planned.”

In fact the only team which deserved to edge the contest was Colombia, as Yepes observed.

“Colombia played well and had more chances to win it.

“That much is clear by the fact their keeper was man of the match,” said the Milan star.

Colombia striker Radamel Falcao said Argentina had lacked depth but warned they could only get better: “They are surely going to improve on what they have served up to date,” pondered the Porto striker. — AFP